Summer may be a-coming in, we will see beaches and I promised to take a look at that pattern of patient tidal flow.
GP demand is like a rolling wave. Or quite like a skijump, or one side of a volcano, but let’s stay with the wave for the purposes of surfing.
We’ve analysed hundreds of practices and when you allow patients call any time in working hours the pattern is strikingly similar across the board. The calls start high when you open at 8, stay there for a short time and from 9 fall rapidly through the morning. They flatten out through the middle of the day and early afternoon, then tail off from around four down to very little by 6.
Aha. So how to respond?
- Tidal deniers: “We hold our partnership meetings at 8.30 on a Monday morning. Works well for us as everyone is in, perfect start to the week”. If only they spent five minutes in reception.
- Tidal self harmers: “Sorry, what do you expect, it’s already 8.17 and there’s nothing left. Call back tomorrow but make it early I should to be sure of an appointment” Funny how every day is the same.
- Dudes: we’re ready, on it as the demand comes in, phone or online first response, deal with it now, decide to see some later when incoming is quieter. Stay on the wave, take a break, mentally prepare for face to faces, back for next session. It’s a full on day, but we feel in control.
Someone accused me on Twitter this week of common sense and I strenuously deny all charges, but really, is it that hard? So why do patients wait an average of 5 days to get help from their GP? And why do GPs end the day shredded?
One practice we’re working with has hit a median response time by a GP to any patient demand of 17 minutes. Within five weeks of launch. 17 minutes. Surfin’
askmyGP & GP Access Ltd
PS Delighted to see that Matthew Swindells, new Director of Operations at NHS England, is starting to call out NHS111 for the monstrous waste that it is. I wrote this on the launch of 111 in 2013. Sad to say that it’s taken a change of personnel to admit the truth, while those four years have seen hundreds of £m wasted, never mind the frustrations for patients, GPs and staff. So will he actually do the necessary?
Are you in a caring profession? I had the opportunity last week to visit the Midlands hub of a rather different one, no less caring, but where the object of their care is a parcel.
You’d think it was a different world to general practice and on the surface that appears to be the case, but the parallels are striking and fascinating. They call it a hub not as the latest management fad to soak up taxpayers’ money but because the hub is essential to the design and operation of the system. (All competing parcels businesses have a Midlands hub by the way).
It means that a parcel can be collected from your door anywhere in the UK and delivered to another door anywhere in the UK within 24 hours, and to do that for 5kg in any shape or size, for under £10, is simply astonishing.
At the system’s centre is the hub where lorries from 40 depots arrive throughout the evening and depart into the night. An arriving parcel can go out to any destination, and if it’s one of the 70% to go on the automated system it will spend just 7 minutes in the building. Most of the 300 workers however handle the odd shapes, sizes and special requirements of the 35,000 per night which can’t be automated. They are glad of £12-£14/hour for the 8pm – 3am shift, many of them immigrants and a third on agency books. It was hot on Monday night, and only the control room has a/c, but the work ethic, and it is hard work, is phenomenal.
So what about the parallels? You’d think a parcel is a parcel, but the “undifferentiated demand” they see ranges from a 150g padded envelope to a 1.5 tonne truck engine, a factor of 10,000 times by weight. They all get the same service. Is it urgent? Some are marked as such but there is no way of knowing the unique story behind each item. In truth it makes little difference, as there is no point hanging onto parcels overnight – they would just get in the way of tomorrow’s work.
What about the ethos? They sort everything tonight, barring a handful of especially fragile or flammable patients, I mean parcels, kept in for special treatment. They walk the lines to ensure nothing was missed and only then declare “End of sort”. Only then do they go home, and if it’s after 3am, they stay until done – last night was 3.39.
There’s the variety, and there’s the flow. Like general practice, parcels are not scheduled, they just turn up when they feel like it. But the volumes are predictable within quite a narrow range, and the pattern is tidal. Every evening lorries come in around the same time, every night they go out again full (except for the exceptions, breakdowns, accidents and so on, managed by humans).
“Tidal” seems to me the best description for general practice demand, predictable by day and by week, and I sense the next blog forming around a theme – the tidal deniers, tidal self harmers and tidal surfers.
Help me with a name, “How to be a GP surfer dude” or something.
askmyGP & GP Access Ltd
PS Thank you to Dr Kerri Monk, GP at Audley Mills, for her addition to last week’s blog. “I feel as a group of drs we’re finally working as a team. It’s great. I’m looking forward to week 2 already.”
PPS Fascinating interview on automating healthcare with Dr Jonathan Tomlinson, aka @mellojonny, in the Technoskeptic. “We got this fantastic robot that does the work of two men, but unfortunately it takes three to work it.’ The WebGP/eConsult thing is like that.”
We agree. And that’s why we have a totally different philosophy from webGP/eConsult, who are trying to divert patients from seeing a GP, or diagnose themselves and then get asked so many questions they lose the will to live. It doesn’t work. Computers are rubbish at this. Computers are very good at taking down what people say and speeding up communication. Which is how they save time for GPs. Which is why one of our GPs using askmyGP said to me last week she could manage a patient demand in two minutes which previously would have taken five minutes. Aha.
So now they are trying to increase the proportion of patient demands coming through askmyGP up from the current 20%. The clue on how comes from the main theme of patient feedback: “Easy to use and quick service.” Aha. “Quick service” is down to the practice, “Easy to use” is down to us and you’d be amazed how hard it is to make something easy! Our never finished project.
Quite a week but let’s put all that to one side and reflect on a fabulous article I came across, which put into perspective what we are trying to do.
Dr John Launer of HEE asks in BMJ Is there a crisis in clinical consultations? Although he sets the paper in a hospital context, most of his working life has been in primary care and the same principles and questions apply. It’s all about
“the idea that making it easier for clinicians simply to talk with patients may solve many problems that managers might assume need far more complex technological solutions”
Aha. Let’s add to that the assumptions of politicians, along with structural, financial and all kinds of other complicated solutions.
Launer quotes Dr Gordon Caldwell who has outlined ten fundamental conditions to optimise consultations, including:
- The patient should be as prepared as possible
- The clinician should be as prepared as possible
- Ready supply of information into the consultation
Telephone consulting pioneer Dr Steve Laitner contrasts traditional general practice in a tweet, “like having a day of back to back meetings every ten minutes with no idea who you’re meeting and no agendas”
Stressful and far less productive than it might be.
Yet patients are willing to spend their own time writing and preparing when they seek help – we need the system to make it available to GPs.
A recurring theme of patient feedback on askmyGP is “I was able to gather my thoughts before seeing the doctor. I so often forget things when I’m in there.”
Clinicians value enormously what patients write, whether preparing for a phone or face to face consultation. Our task is to develop the handful of questions which provide the most useful information, and I’m delighted to say that researchers are interested in this too.
Our other focus is to make online access so easy and attractive that it becomes the norm. We are over 30% in one practice and it will take a lot of experiment and refinement but I’m looking forward to reaching 50%, which I hope will make a big contribution to clinical quality.
I’ll leave you to look up all ten principles in Launer’s article, but here’s one you will like: “The clinician should be regularly refreshed”. He doesn’t say what with.
askmyGP & GP Access Ltd
Couple of mornings ago I was just enjoying my porridge when the Today programme told me that four out of five hospitals need to improve! Spluttering, I had to leave the porridge to cool while I took to Twitter.
No, it’s not the four I’m worried about, but the other one which presumably thinks it doesn’t need to improve. All of us need to improve – companies large and small, hospitals, GPs, parish councils and governments. A minute later Radio 4 was telling us that 2/3 police forces were performing well while 1/3 weren’t. Utter nonsense.
The real scandal is not the hospitals, or the police forces, but the thinking which labels performance as binary good/bad, pass/fail, and it’s this system of rating which infects government from top to bottom. People moan about CQC for its charges, its bureaucracy and bother, but the heart of the evil it spreads is the way that it rates its victims.
Measurement is crucial to improvement, but it matters what you measure and how. The best place to start is with what matters most to patients, and if you don’t know, think about the last time you wanted help from your GP. Yes, it’s how fast you can get help. Not the only thing that matters by any means, but you’d have thought that at least the multi £million CQC would have realised.
Recently we’ve produced datasets for two practices, one labelled by CQC as “good” and the other “inadequate”. It’s clear from the former that patients are being turned away almost all day from 8.45, and are struggling to make appointments. The latter, while ticked off for records on staff checks and vaccines, has a policy of never turning patients away, and it’s clear from their data that they don’t, accepting calls right up to closing time.
Do you want a tick box culture in general practice, or one with a passion for patient service at its heart? I know what I want, and if the government wants it then nothing short of a total rethink of CQC will get there.
Dear Mr Trump,
I get your sense of terror towards all those out groups like women, liberals, Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese (not Russians, oddly?), hordes from abroad… but they aren’t your biggest worry.
You’ve made a great start on dismantling the hateful Obamacare. OK, 20 miliion more Americans got health insurance, but it didn’t make much of a dent in the 17% of GDP you spend on healthcare. I agree, however well intentioned it didn’t go nearly far enough. You want something like our beautiful NHS, halve the cost and cover everyone, dontcha?
You can do even better, ‘cos ours ain’t even free! Hard working adults have to pay £8.40 just for a prescription. And hospital car parking can add up to the cost of essentials such as a pint of beer or a couple of newspapers. Then there’s the appalling inefficiency – most of the population have to wait more than a day to see their GP.
Butt – if you saved half the cost of healthcare, think of all the walls you could build, and the missile shields. They’re damned expensive, even against friendly missiles, ‘cos those things are soooo unpredictable.
No, the real terror is on a whole different page. They come in boats and planes as well as over land borders. They never get work permits, never pay taxes, they can run AND they can hide. They can move at the speed of light. They have intent, and meaning, they act alone or in deadly organised cells known as “sentences”. They threaten your policies and even your person. One traced to a middle eastern source said “Many who are first will be last.”
They are words, Mr Trump. Beware words.
PS And now for some good honest real news. This tiny seaside village is so achingly beautiful I can’t wait to go. They’ve just dived in to askmyGP online access and their website is absolutely the coolest I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen hundreds). Take a deep breath – you’ll feel better instantly.
So the Red Cross tells us there’s a humanitarian crisis in our NHS hospitals and ambulance services. What reactions does that trigger in your mind?
This is the same Red Cross which is helping those left alive flee the ruins of Aleppo, and in context I don’t know about you but I have a problem with that language. I don’t mean to shrug “Crisis, what crisis?” but the point is that it is so easy to make headlines by building on public perceptions and so hard to challenge them.
Many players within the NHS ecosystem and media thrive on continual crisis but strangely it doesn’t help us to measure, analyse, reflect and redesign. We are addicted to firefighting.
Now I want to raise the subject of cognitive dissonance. If you haven’t yet read Matthew Syed’s “Black Box Thinking” then I urge you to do so: well written, engaging and with a powerful message. (the subtitle about marginal gains doesn’t do it justice. It’s much more about learning from failure).
I’ll declare an emotional “COI” here in that aviation comes out much more favourably than healthcare, and some decades ago I was a tiny cog in the industry at Rolls-Royce aero engines. The difference centres around attitudes to failure: forensic analysis, learning and rapid dissemination in aviation, versus cover up in health. Doctors have admitted to me that that’s a huge fear of failure in medicine, but the problem as Syed so eloquently puts it is that failure happens continually and repeatedly. Aviation by contrast is very open, and very safe.
I’ve talked for some time about the primal fears which keep GPs from change, impenetrable to evidence. But perhaps I’m wrong, it’s more the gap between beliefs about current practice and what we imagine we might have to do – cognitive dissonance.
Does reframing the problem make it any easier to solve? Your thoughts gratefully received.
PS Counter that crisis thinking with this US doctor’s experience of the NHS as a patient. We must count our blessings vs USA never mind Syria.
Yesterday in deep frost the view from Great Mell Fell in Cumbria was blissful. I hope your holiday had similar moments, and they will continue to inspire as we get to work in 2017.
I’m optimistic about the year ahead as more and more GPs and their patients are seeing the benefits of a demand led system, whether phone or online. But I’m concerned about polarising views and we saw this only last week when, perhaps to her own surprise, RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard made the front page of the Sun with “A MONTH TO SEE GP” winter misery shocker.
The testimony of hundreds of GPs says there’s no need for a trade off between workload and waiting time, and no need to divide the infinitely variable needs of patients into “urgent, trivial” and “routine, life threatening.” They know they can deal with demand as it comes in, appropriately and compassionately. We shall keep on putting that message across because it happens to be based on evidence.
Already today this year a new practice has launched, in the west of Fermanagh about as rural as it’s possible to be in these islands. There isn’t even a house next to it, just fields.
And this morning these three patients left the latest feedback on askmyGP:
Better since streamlined process. Thanks! (f 41)
Feel I can explain my problem easier writing it than talking about it. Quick service is great (m 38)
I use this service as it saves me from making a phone call, it is easy to use and i have received a follow-up call from the GP quickly (f 17)
This is what should be on the front pages.
Chief Executive, GP Access Ltd
PS we’ve been very busy today with enquiries on askmyGP, as new year prompts new ideas and minds turn to making the most of the GPFV funding. Do get in touch.
3:30 on Tuesday a practice manager tells me, “I’ve got GPs wandering around, wondering what to do. We’ve run out of patients”. Me: “Get them cleaning windows.” It was day 2 of launch.
Last week a receptionist at a practice 3 months in told me “it’s really quiet today” – we often hear the same, and no surprise, as there are some busy days and some quiet days if you’re close to patient demand.
Yesterday a Liverpool GP explains to me how they’d saved £50k as a practice in GP costs, enabled by their demand led system now going 4 years.
So why aren’t you seeing this all over the industry press? You know it doesn’t fit the narrative, #GPinCrisis and the rest. It doesn’t suit the interests of RCGP, BMA, NHS England or even the secretary of state.
Money and power need continual crisis.
GPs and their patients need something rather different, a way of working which is compassionate, sustainable and professionally satisfying.
Hunting down good news has a long history. Sorry if your child got the short straw and had to play King Herod this year, but take heart, the Wise Men got the better of him.
Founder, Chief Executive, GP Access Ltd
PS You must read @jtweeterson’s NHS Networks, a record year for trends “BMA’s Clinical Time Lost to BMA Workload Surveys survey” is the mark of genius.
PPS Did you get one of the emails sent to top GPs yesterday? Businesswoman and GP Clare Gerada writes, “As a leading member of the GP community, I hope you don’t mind in me blatantly promoting Web-GP (now known as e-Consult) an on-line GP consultation platform that myself and my partners developed.”
Some partners too, with businessman and civil servant Dr Arvind Madan now directing NHS England’s primary care. She continues,
“As part of the GPFV, NHSE has announced funding to stimulate the uptake of online consultation services over the course of the next 3 years”. That’s the ring-fenced £45m.
I’m sure you’re aware of the debate over our askmyGP and their webGP/eConsult. Competition on quality, service and evidence is greatly to be encouraged. Taking on the medico-political establishment was not part of our product planning, but hey ho, if that’s what it takes we look forward to it.
Do write to me about your experiences if you’re one of the 300 practices they claim to use eConsult.
I was talking to a lovely Yorkshire GP this week who knows our work and knows his own kind very well. He told me how the GPs would listen carefully to the evidence, hear the testimonies of colleagues, nod sagely at how impressive it all was and would solve precisely the problems they face. Finally they would explain why it couldn’t possibly work in their own practices.
“How did you know!” I gasped. “That’s EXACTLY what happens.”
I often reflect on why, with the steady flow of “new lease of life… feeling more in control… stress has gone from 100 to 0… ” and so on, GPs find it so difficult to imagine the change for themselves.
In the NHS we are used to a 3% improvement being hailed as a major achievement. When it’s 80%, does this sound so unreal that it therefore can’t be true? I wonder whether it’s the Victor Meldrew grumpy old man syndrome. There’s a wonderful YouTube of the best of his “I don’t believe it’s”
Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that GPs are all either grumpy, or old, or men. But you know what I mean. Anyway, the great news is that a growing number, now well over 1%, are realising that yes, it can be me.
It’s 16 years since Dr Chris Barlow first realised, and 5 since we caught up, so we’ve updated the Dover Chart Collection to celebrate all the practices who have seen their waiting times fall off a cliff.
PS Last week I got some flak for saying we need transformation not improvement. Well, yes, of course we need both but let me illustrate from a Kidderminster practice we are working with. They launched last month and the average wait to see a GP dropped from 6 days to 0.3 days (with demand exactly as predicted). That’s transformation. Now they are working on getting the average GP response time down from 2 hours to under 30 minutes. That’s improvement.
PPS Here’s another thing Victor wouldn’t believe, and it makes you proud of the NHS. In the US, the wait to see a GP ranges from 5 days to a jaw dropping 66 days in Boston.