Linking patients with medical care

How often did you visit your doctor last year? Once, twice? If you’re anything like the average patient, it was six or seven times, three times the frequency of 20 years ago. Fast forward and traditional general practice (GP) services are being squeezed by pressures from a growing and ageing population living with more illnesses.

GPs are having to do more with less, leading to early retirement matched by fewer entries to general practice each year. Patients are equally frustrated. A recent report from NHS Digital revealed satisfaction with GP services fell to 65 per cent, the lowest level in the 35-year history of the British Social Attitude Survey. Among the 29 per cent of respondents who were dissatisfied with the NHS in 2017, a majority put this down to long waiting times, lack of funding or a lack of staff in the NHS.

“Primary care is fractured and is in a perfect storm of surging demand and a shortfall in numbers. The result is that GPs are seeing more people, but have less time with those who need additional attention,” says Keith Nurcombe, sales and marketing director of DoctorLink, a new online tool that provides 24/7 symptom advice and appointment booking for patients, and which launched last October, following 16 trials across the NHS.

“Meanwhile, patients find it increasingly difficult to see their GP and may have to wait two to three weeks for an appointment. This is bad for the system overall as it forces people into A&E or a walk-in centre, where the NHS and the taxpayer incurs great cost.”

Through administrative and clinical efficiencies, GPs are gaining up to 20 per cent of their time, as the DoctorLink system gathers adoption across the NHS. The innovation, which uses proven secure clinical algorithms, assesses a person’s condition and, where appropriate, gives patients the opportunity to self-manage their condition or seek advice from pharmacists instead of joining GP surgery waiting queues. It is able to release around 844 hours a year at a surgery with a 7,200-strong list, creating an annual cost-saving
of £27,041.

“The return on investment is primarily in time, as 20 per cent of patients using DoctorLink are well enough to look after themselves or see a pharmacist without needing a doctor’s appointment,” says Mr Nurcombe.

“DoctorLink is not about replacing the GP’s hands-on approach or pushing patients away; it’s about helping people understand if they actually need to go to the surgery and for the doctor to understand how quickly a patient needs to be seen, based on the responses to a robust series of medical questions.

The system helps and supports local GP surgeries to deliver a better service and answers a significant healthcare need

“If you have 50 people booked in to a morning’s surgery, but could responsibly remove ten of them, it creates time which could be used differently and the GP can best decide how to use that time.

“DoctorLink will always default to symptoms with the highest acuity if there is possibility of two or three diagnoses. It shares the information with the GP in advance, which can lead to much shorter consultation time as the doctor will already have a view of what treatment is needed.”

The trials have proved popular with surgery administration and reception staff by significantly reducing the volume of calls and number of patients trying to squeeze on to the appointments chokepoints of Monday morning and Friday afternoon. Beversbrook Medical Centre in Wiltshire piloted it for four months among its 7,000 patients and reported positive feedback from clinicians, staff and patients.

“It is encouraging to see how the service has already begun to alleviate the pressures on NHS services,” says managing partner Emmy Butcher.

“The system helps and supports local GP surgeries to deliver a better service and answers a significant healthcare need,” Mr Nurcombe concludes.

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