— Dr Sadie Aubrey is a GP at the Brant Road and Springcliffe Surgery in Lincoln. This column is part of a series marking a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the first lockdown in March 2020, many of our practices were making use of some digital methods to interact with our patients, however many had not embraced the use of new technology. That was about to change in the most dramatic fashion, virtually overnight.
Many patients were used to calling their practice in the first instance, having a conversation with practice staff, in some cases being offered a telephone call. In most cases, a face to face consultation would take place.
The change in the way GPs could offer their services had to change very quickly and was a big adjustment, not only for GP practices, but more importantly for our patients.
GPs had gone from seeing a large proportion of our patients in surgery, to suddenly undertaking the majority of their consultations via the telephone or utilising a range of technologies.
In Lincolnshire, we have tended to use one of three main systems which include:
- askmyGP – which allows triage to take place through messages, over the telephone or via video conferencing
- eConsult – which is an online GP service by submitting an online consultation to allow quick and safe help and advice from your GP Practice
- accuRX which is more based on SMS messaging – this system allows the provision of sick notes, provision of leaflets and information as well the supply of images from the patient.
All of these systems allow the clinical teams to make a safe and accurate assessment without the need for a patient to actually attend the practice – something that it really important at this current time.
In addition, we do offer some video consultations, however these are much less common than our patients may think. These are particularly useful when we are assessing children who are unwell.
If we are discussing an acute infection with an adult, for example, we can often diagnose by telephone or messages.
If it is a child, though, it isn’t always quite so easy and this is where video consultations come into their own.
If we are treating a young child with a temperature, a video consultation means we are able to check things like the speed of their breathing.
It allows us as medical professionals to safely make and assessment and advise without the need to bring any potential risk of COVID -19 into the surgery.
As GPs we have had to adapt very quickly to these changes in order to continue to provide care for our patients in an ever changing landscape.
These new ways of working have enabled us to prioritise those patients who need to be seen in the surgery, while keeping our teams and patients as safe as possible.
Of course, patients should be reassured that if it is deemed necessary to attend the practice, then all of the relevant safety measures are in place.
We ask that patients wear a face covering, not turn up too early for the appointment, use hand sanitiser and to try to attend the practice alone.
We know that there will always will be the need for some patients to attend the practice in person.
What we have found is that the vast majority of our patients have embraced this technology though there are still some who are a little unsure or reluctant.
Some patients don’t have a smart phone or internet access and in those cases we can still communicate with them via the telephone.
Even some of our younger patients feel a little bit reticent, but with support and encouragement they get used to using technology and many have left very positive messages about how good the system is.
The use of technology also means that some of our patients don’t have to make journeys to the practice or arrange for childcare or care for anyone else that they are looking after at home.
Prior to the pandemic, patients called their practice, had a telephone consultation or, in many cases, attended the practice for a face to face consultation.
As the pandemic has progressed, we have seen a steady increase in the number of patients using online methods – at my practice around 80% of contacts from patients come in online.
For me, it is paramount that patients continue to receive the service they need. This increased use of technology means more people can be looked after in their homes and access healthcare more readily and that can only be a positive step.