Online consultation systems

As part of the General Practice Forward View, a £45 million fund has been created to contribute towards the costs for practices to purchase online consultation systems, improving access and making best use of clinicians’ time.

Benefits for patients and practices

Recent years have seen rapid development of a number of online consultation systems for patients to connect with their general practice. Using a mobile app or online portal, patients can contact the GP. This may be a follow-up or a new consultation. The e-consultation system may be largely passive, providing a means to pass on unstructured input from the patient, or include specific prompts in response to symptoms described. It may offer advice about self care and signposting to other sources of help, as well as the option to send information to the GP for a response.

In early adopter practices, these systems are proving to be popular with patients of all ages. They free time for GPs, allowing them to spend more time managing complex needs. Some issues are resolved by the patient themselves, or by another member of the practice team. Others are managed by the GP entirely remotely, in about a third of the time of a traditional face to face consultation. Others still require a face to face consultation, and these are enhanced by the GP already knowing about the patient’s issue. As well as improving the service for patients, evidence to date indicates that online consultation systems can free up to 10 per cent of GPs’ time.

How will it work?

NHS England has allocated £45 million over three years to support the purchase of online consultation systems by practices. This will become available from 2017/18, with £15 million in 2017/18, £20 million in 2018/19 and £10 million in 2019/20.

Central funding will be allocated to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), to allow them to disseminate it in the most appropriate way for their practices. It will also make it easier for CCGs to add their own investments in their providers’ sustainability and transformation.

NHS England will help ensure best value through the support of a commercial procurement hub. Initially established to support the GP Access Fund schemes, this national expert resource has reduced the purchase price of a typical installation from approximately £1 per patient per year to £0.61.

Further details about this fund will be published in the autumn.

Read case studies about this innovation.