Online consultation brings latest technology to patient/GP contact

Patients at Beacon Medical Group are to benefit from easier access to their GP and the treatment they need, thanks to the introduction of online consultations in full from Monday 11th November.

The online consultation system adopted by Beacon Medical Group has been developed by GPs and is in use in around 1,000 GP practices across the country. It is accredited by the Care Quality Commission.

Making an online consultation is straightforward. It can be accessed on any device via the Beacon Medical Group website. The online form asks patients questions about their health, and the answers help Beacon clinicians to advise the best treatment options for them. It saves patients waiting on the telephone or making a trip to the surgery if they are feeling unwell, because it can be completed from the comfort of their own homes.

The time the online consultation takes depends on the information provided by the patient, because the system will ask a range of questions designed to pinpoint the condition they are describing. The important thing is to keep going until the end – the online consultation form will not be received by Beacon until it is fully completed and submitted. The more information Beacon’s clinicians have from an online consultation, the better able they are able to provide appropriate and timely treatment.

Each online consultation is reviewed by the Beacon clinical team and the patient’s GP. Patients will receive a response from Beacon within 24 hours, and offered a GP appointment on the day if one is required. For mild conditions like a cough, cold or minor infection Beacon will offer an appointment with its highly-trained clinical team made up from Nurse Practitioners, Paramedics and Minor Illness Nurses – they are all trained to deal with these types of condition.

Responses to save patients a trip to the surgery might suggest options such visiting trusted webpages for information, or going to a pharmacist for advice. The patient’s GP may also ring, text or email them, and if they are unable to make contact at the first go they will suggest a time when they will contact the patient again.

Online consultation forms part of a patient’s medical record, and with their permission it may be used by other health professionals – such as when they are referred to a hospital or clinic for further treatment.

Provision has been made for patients who do not have access to the Internet, or do not have a family member, carer or friend who can help them with an online consultation. Each Beacon Medical Group surgery has tablets in their waiting rooms for patients to use to complete an online consultation, and there is the option to call the surgery where a Care Navigator will take the patient through the process. Beacon is also working with local health access charity Well Connected to ensure sectors of the community with particular needs can also benefit from online consultations.

Patients will still be able to contact their surgery by telephone if they prefer, and with more people using online consultations it means they will not have to wait as long to get through. Telephone access is also available to those with a long term condition, who need a blood test approved by a GP, and for nurse and other non-GP appointments.

Dr Matthew Funnell, GP at Ivybridge Medical Practice, Beacon Medical Group, commented: “The beauty of this system is that if a doctor needs to be involved it is always your own GP who reviews your online consultation, and it will be your GP who responds to you. This means that we can provide a level of continuity of care which we know our patients want. If your GP is not in then your online consultation will be reviewed by another of our GPs. If they decide you need to be seen before your usual GP returns to the surgery, then we will arrange an appointment with the GP who has reviewed your online consultation. If they think your condition can wait and that you need to see your own GP, then we will arrange an appointment with your GP on their return.”

Claire Oatway, Non-Clinical Partner at Beacon Medical Group, added: “The majority of people have Internet access and use websites, email and other online forms of communication everyday – this is a safe, secure and effective way for you to use the Internet to interact with your GP. We have introduced online consultations after listening to our patients. The online consultation system means shorter waiting times for an appointment (often available on the day you need one), less time waiting on the telephone (as more people use online consultations) and better use of the finite resources of our GPs and clinical teams.”

Online consultations – 12 things you need to know

What is an online consultation?

It is like emailing your GP, but you use a ‘smart’ form via our website. The form will ask you questions about your health, and the answers help our clinicians to advise the best treatment options for you. It saves you waiting on the telephone or making a trip to the surgery if you are feeling unwell, because it can be completed from the comfort of your own home. The system has been developed by GPs.

Why are you introducing online consultations?

The majority of people have Internet access and use websites, email and other online forms of communication everyday – this is a safe, secure and effective way for you to use the Internet to interact with your GP. It means shorter waiting times for an appointment (often available on the day you need one), less time waiting on the telephone (as more people use online consultations) and better use of the finite resources of our GPs and clinical teams (an issue facing every GP practice in the country).

How can I access an online consultation?

You can do so via our website, and the online consultation has been designed to work from any computer or mobile device.

How long does an online consultation take?

This depends on the information you provide, because the system will ask a range of questions designed to pinpoint the condition you are describing. The important thing is to keep going until the end – we won’t receive your online consultation form until it is fully completed and submitted, so please be patient with it. The more information we have from your online consultation, the better able we will be to provide appropriate and timely treatment.

What happens if my need is serious?

If your answers to the online consultation cause concern the process will stop and you will be advised to take further action, such as calling 999, visiting your A&E department, or calling 111.

What happens to my online consultation?

It comes to us where it is reviewed by our clinical team and your GP. You will receive a response from us within 24 hours, and a GP appointment on the day if one is required. Responses to save you a trip to the surgery might suggest options such visiting trusted webpages for information, or going to your pharmacist for advice. Your GP may also ring, text or email you. If they can’t contact you at the first go they will suggest a time when they will contact you again.

Your online consultation forms part of your medical record, and with your permission it may be used by other health professionals – such as when you are referred to a hospital or clinic for further treatment.

What response can I expect?

We will respond to you within 24 hours, and the advice we give will depend on the severity of your condition and your medical history. You will be given an appointment with your GP if you need one, but if you have something like a cough, cold or minor infection we will offer an appointment with our highly-trained clinical team made up from Nurse Practitioners, Paramedics and Minor Illness Nurses – they are all trained to deal with these types of condition.

Does my GP get to see my online consultation?

The beauty of this system is that if a doctor needs to be involved it is always your own GP who reviews your online consultation, and it will be your GP who responds to you. This means that we can provide a level of continuity of care which we know our patients want.

If your GP is not in then your online consultation will be reviewed by another of our GPs. If they decide you need to be seen before your usual GP returns to the surgery, then we will arrange an appointment with the GP who has reviewed your online consultation. If they think your condition can wait and that you need to see your own GP, then we will arrange an appointment with your GP on their return.

Is it secure?

Yes, the online consultation is entirely confidential and the system is secure. Your information is only seen by our clinical team and your GP, and other health professionals with your permission.

What happens if I don’t have Internet access?

You can either ring us where one of our Care Navigators will go through the online consultation with you over the phone, or you can visit the surgery where we have tablets programmed to take you through the process. Alternatively, a family member, carer or friend with Internet access can complete an online consultation with you on your behalf.

Does this mean I can no longer ring the surgery?

Telephone contact with us remains available, and with more people using online consultations it means that you will not have to wait as long to get through. Telephone access is also available to those with a long term condition, who need a blood test approved by a GP, and for nurse and other non-GP appointments.

Can I be confident that online consultations will work for me?

Around 1,000 GP practices around the country have adopted online consultations so far, so you can be assured that the technology is tried and tested. But don’t take our word for it – here are some of the responses to online consultations we have already received here at Beacon:

I’ve used it several times. On each occasion I’ve had a prompt response

It worked superbly

This has literally been a lifesaver for me. It is the best form of contact with the practice. I would highly recommend and have done so! I can’t ring the practice as my anxiety is extreme.