As part of the General Practice Forward View, the GP Online Consultation Systems Fund was launched in 2017. This £45 million fund – over three years 2017 – 2020 – is available to support digital confident practices to explore and successfully embed a model(s) of online consultations as part of ‘Time to Care’ to benefit both patients and staff.
Benefits of online consultations
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 tell the practice about their query or problem, and receive a reply, prescription, call back or other kind of appointment. They can also access information about symptoms and treatment, supporting greater use of self care.
In early adopter practices, these systems are proving to be popular with patients of all ages. Many enable the patient to access information about symptoms, conditions and treatments, and connect to self help options. They free up 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, with about a third of online consultations being followed up with a face to face consultation.
As well as improving the service for patients, evidence to date indicates that online consultation systems can free up time for GPs to spend more time leading complex care for those who need it. Whilst the focus here is on primary care the connection with urgent and out of hours GP services is an important consideration. The ultimate ambition is that we create an integrated digital experience that supports patients to access appropriate services based on their needs.