How technology is changing the way we contact our GP

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NHS Dorset is investing in technology to improve care for the population – sometimes unpopular, it is necessary to cope with demand. Rachael Rowe reports

Most of us are aware of the increased demands on primary care and hospitals at the moment, and the challenges in getting appointments. But what if there was a way of getting help to people more efficiently, using technology? That’s exactly what is happening with primary care in parts of North Dorset.
The Blackmore Vale Partnership manages GP practices in Shaftesbury, Gillingham, and Sturminster Newton. It has been busy trailblazing a new IT system to manage appointments. Newly appointed clinical digital care co-ordinator Charley Davies explains: ‘Klinik is a nationally recognised system. It is used by 500 practices across the country, and it brings a uniformity to the service.’
As featured in the BV last year, Gillingham Medical Practice, like so many others, adopted a new solution. At that time, Dr Chris Pearce told me: ‘Prior to the new system, Gillingham Surgery received 14,500 phone calls a month. Only 53 per cent of those calls got answered; there simply weren’t enough people to pick up the phone. It’s impossible to deal with that volume.’
Just think about that number for a moment – and that’s just one practice in Dorset. Others have the same problems – it’s not sustainable.

Who deals with what
I recently used eConsult (very successfully) at the Blandford Group of practices and wondered how the two platforms, Klinik and eConsult, differed.
Charley says: ‘Klinik offers so much more, and it also helps with choice and promotes a better service.’
So how is it all going to work when someone phones their GP? Dr Simone Yule, clinical director for the Blackmore Vale Partnership, is clear on the benefits.
‘Klinik will bring a uniformity of service. Whether someone rings the surgery or uses the website, they will get the same response. Part of the problem is the huge range of healthcare practitioners in primary care now, such as paramedics, physiotherapists and nurses.
Knowing who is best to deal with an issue can be difficult. With this new system, we can streamline patients to the right place and for the right reason. There is an element of instant triage (see video opposite) – and there’s a clinical team behind it looking at what is coming in on the system. So people will either get a face-to-face or a phone appointment. And it should then be easier to get that face-to-face appointment because the system releases capacity.’

Digital triage
When someone uses the Klinik system, they are asked a series of questions which is a core part of the triage. See the video opposite to watch exactly how it works. It starts with the basics – so, for example, if you have a query about a letter, you’ll go straight to the administrative team.
Klinik is designed to reduce call time, so the issue of being told ‘You are number 52 in the queue’ should resolve. However, the system is not for emergencies.
When you have answered the questions, a calendar pops up where you can give a time convenient for someone from the practice to call you or to schedule an appointment.
So what happens to the receptionists now?
Laura Grant, operations manager at Blackmore Vale Partnership, reassures me: ’The receptionists are really excited about it. It’s a new system, and it builds relationships with the team.’
Simone adds: ‘We think of receptionists as patient service teams here, because they do so much more than just be on reception and answer the phone.’

Help is at hand
But what if you are unable to use the internet?
Firstly, the phone option is still available; but you’ll still answer all the questions as the patient service team uses the same algorithms to assess your need as the online system.
Then they will pass your request to one of the clinicians monitoring the system. And if you want to become more confident in using the online service, Charley is available to help you navigate the internet and use the various apps and technical services best.

More than just your GP
Dorset is using more technology to support people managing their long-term conditions and stay healthy. Verena Cooper, who is supporting the project, outlined the MyMHealth app to me, used by people with diabetes, asthma and COPD. Dorset is also implementing the BP at Home service, where people can measure their blood pressure at home (and usually in a less stressful environment). In addition, there’s an entire library of online services on the Orcha platform, where all the digital applications have been thoroughly checked for safety and IT security.
Another exciting development in Dorset has been the DIIS (Dorset Information and Intelligence Service – pronounced dice) which uses anonymised data such as medical codes to help practices and primary care networks identify people who are at risk of developing health problems so they can be targeted for more support.
Whether you like it or not, technology is here to stay in the NHS. From insulin pumps transforming the lives of people with diabetes to robotic surgery and innovative apps which help to manage chronic illness, times are changing.
And the most exciting developments in tech and healthcare are when they make a positive difference to people.

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