Patients diagnosed using EMAILS: NHS invest in new electronic GP consultations

Patients diagnosed using EMAILS: NHS invest in new electronic GP consultations

NHS ENGLAND is to invest tens of millions of pounds in electronic GP consultations, where patients are diagnosed using email, after nationwide trials were hailed as a success.

The £45million fund is set to be released this autumn following trials of the service, which supporters say has seen many patients avoiding the need to visit their practice altogether.

However the service has been criticised by some doctors who say online consultations are only in place to cut costs at the expense of patient safety. They say a virtual service will mean vital and potentially lifesaving health information could be missed.

Currently over 400 doctor’s surgeries have been trialling the new system and preliminary data shows the eConsultation service leads to as many as 60 per cent fewer face-to-face family doctor visits because health problems are resolved online or with a follow up call.

In most virtual surgery systems, a patient answers questions online and their case is reviewed by a GP who decides what action to take.

Research carried out by the Hurley Group, a collection of London based GP practices, shows the new virtual system, which now covers over 3 million patients across the country, is able to handle up to 3 consultations in 10 minutes – a third of the time it would take to see a doctor face-to-face.

In almost two thirds of cases the problem is resolved online and typical cases could include repeat prescriptions, treatment for hay fever, colds and flu.

In approximately 30 per cent of these cases patients need to be called back by a doctor while in the remaining cases the patient is called in for a face-to-face visit.

Most users are middle-aged with over forty per cent aged between 45 and 64.

Separate data from NHS researchers shows the new online consultation service is disproportionately used by patients with issues that are more often seen as embarrassing, such as sexual or mental health problems and contraception in what experts say is an example of “digital disinhibition”.

Dr Murray Ellender, a south London based GP who founded e-Consult, the largest provider of NHS online GP services said: “This is not a replacement for the traditional face-to-face consultation, but it can help reduce demand and free us up for cases that need to be dealt with face-to-face.

"It is not the only answer to the problems in the overstretched service, and in this day and age patients should be able to interact with us online.”

He added: “It doesn’t mean we are dealing with things faster, we are just making sure we can take longer for those who need it.”

Last week 33 Yorkshire practices across Hull and East Riding became the latest to trial the electronic consultation system.

Alex Seale, director of the East Riding Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are not trying to stop people seeing their GP, but in this modern world it offers another option that many patients want.”

However some GP’s are angry about the new system.

Dr Kailash Chand, Vice President of British Medical Association, said: “Medicine is not a perfect science – it's about communication and probability and this cannot be done on an e-Consultation.

“The digital world is not the future for everything – a headache could be simple or it could be a brain tumour.”


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