GPs in a Merthyr Tydfil practice are saving up to six hours a week in appointment time by operating a 24-hour E-consultation system.
The web-based consultations are accessed via the practice website and offer medical advice, prescriptions or sick notes, or a referral to a face-to-face appointment if necessary.
The scheme has been running successfully for 15 months at Pontcae Medical practice in Merthyr and aims to be a template for other practices to follow.
Other Merthyr practices at Morlais, Treharris, Brookside and three at Keir Hardie Health Park have also adopted the system.
Pontcae practice manager Kevin Rogers (pictured) said: “It is saving us about 25 appointments a week at the moment. The highest number so far is 39 appointments a week, all of which become available for other patients.
“One of the huge benefits is the self help section of the website where patients can access a lot of information too.
“We were the first in Wales to bring in E-consult. For us it has worked brilliantly and is probably one of the best innovations we have had so far.”
Patients can access the system from the practice website at any time of the day or night.
One section details how to explain their symptoms for an E-consultation, a section gives general advice or information on self care, and another on how to contact administrative help.
“If they need help with a problem, the patient answers some questions on-line,” Mr Rogers said.
Patients are told they will receive a response by the end of the next working day. They can use this service if they are over 18, registered at the practice, and if the problem isn’t an immediate emergency. The service cannot be used for your child.
Two experienced medical secretaries co-ordinate the requests for an E-consultation for the doctors, who then take the action necessary, such as a prescription, referral for an appointment or a sick note.
“The feedback we have had from patients has been excellent and it has worked fantastically well so far,” said Mr Rogers.
Feedback supplied in July showed 100% patient satisfaction with the service and willingness to recommend it to family and friends. The same 100% said they were contacted by the stated response time.
Some 67% of patients did not have to consult the GP practice or any other NHS service for the same problem within a week of using E-consult.
Patients’ feedback included: “For me it saved time attending to surgery which also has the knock on effect of freeing up a doctor appointment that can be used for somebody else” and “Quick and effective.”
Mr Rogers said: “If we can keep the service at this level it’s great because it means it is working for us. We have ambitions for the system to save up to 60-70 appointments a week, each of which are 10 minute slots which can be used for other patients.”
All the information collected in an E-consultation is available in the patient’s records later.
“The safeguards are built in to the system so that if the symptoms a patient describes are concerning they can be directed towards A&E or to make an acute appointment with the practice.” Mr Rogers said.
Pontcae Medical practice has five partners, two salaried GPs, two registrars and three nurses. The number of patients is around 12,500.
Practices within Merthyr Tydfil which operate the E-consult system are:
Practice 1 at Keir Hardie Health Park www.keirhardiehealthparkpractice1.wales.nhs.uk/home
Practice 2 at Keir Hardie Health Park www.keirhardiehealthparkpractice2.wales.nhs.uk/home
Practice 3 at Keir Hardie Health Park www.practice3keirhardiehealthpark.co.uk/