Britain is social distantly dancing in the street, singing to the screen and rediscovering family games behind closed doors.
Here, working away from askmyGP Towers, the nerd unit has been in hyperdrive (we’re all a bit nerdy) and we are delighted to present, drumroll,
Yes indeed, all the data from 2 million episodes, aggregated and anonymised, is in the public domain for anyone and everyone to crawl over.
- What proportion of demand arrived at all our practices last week online? 74%
- Median completion time for all patient requests last week? 87 minutes, 52% faster than three weeks previously
- Proportion of requests completed same day? 91%, up from 81% three weeks earlier
- How many patients requested a message response?
- How much has face to face dropped?
- How has patient satisfaction changed?
I’ve left some for you to explore and there’s much more.
The overall message is: access is better than ever, though very few are seeing the GP face to face. And patients are mostly very happy with that.
It’s been a full on week for us with new practice launches every day now. Delightful stories come up all the time, such as Mai, PM at Ingham, Lincs, quite moved as she explained “Tuesday was non-stop on the phones, then Wednesday we were online and suddenly, quiet like I’ve never seen in all my years here.”
A string of health boards, CCGs and PCNs have now asked us to launch all their practices double quick, across parts of South Wales, South West, Greater Manchester and Lincs. Trafford CCG is a great example, one of their practices St John’s Altrincham on our new video.
We too are being forced to unlearn and remodel how we deliver, it’s exciting!
Have a great weekend and not too much screen time.
PS We decided not to be one of the 11 suppliers in the NHS England DPS online/video offer randomly allocated to CCGs. However, we were told at the NHS England webinar on Weds that there’s a “Single Tender Waiver” procurement route which CCGs can take, no idea of the details yet but let me know if you are interested.
The Department of Health and Social Care published on 19/2/2019 its Code of Conduct for data-driven health and care technology.
Our response to the ten principles follows:
- Understand users, their needs and the context. askmyGP users are broadly two groups, patients and providers which includes all GP practice staff. Our design principles are for simplicity and ease of use, a difficult task when appealing to patients of all ages and abilities, both in general education and familiarity with online tools. We cater equally for proxies (parents and carers), all gender expressions, and keep language simple to help those with limited English. To assess our effectiveness we monitor age specific adoption by patients in each practice, and feedback from patients informs our development process.
- Define the outcome and how the technology will contribute to it. Our mission is to make it easier for patients to get help from their own GP, and easier for GPs to provide that help. We measure attainment against this outcome by volumes, response and completion times, and measures of efficiency through resolution mode by providers. We also collect and monitor patient feedback and present all measures to the provider organisations.
- Use data that is in line with appropriate guidelines for the purpose for which it is being used. We comply with all relevant legislation including GDPR, Data Protection Act 2018 and collect data only for necessary purposes. Personal data is processed on behalf of providers (the data controllers), stored and transmitted encrypted and over the secure N3/HSCN network. Anonymous data may be used for research and marketing purposes as allowed under the same principles.
- Be fair, transparent and accountable about what data is being used. All data is used in accordance with Caldicott principles, and the conditions are agreed by patients and providers.
- Make use of open standards. We support the use of open standards and wherever technically possible provide open links to others for legitimate interoperability reasons. We use standard NHS number coding for any authorised data transfers.
- Be transparent about the limitations of the data used and algorithms deployed. We collect and transmit plain text and other file formats between patients and providers, but we do not use algorithms to produce triage decisions or advice to patients.
- Show what type of algorithm is being developed or deployed, the ethical examination of how the data is used, how its performance will be validated and how it will be integrated into health and care provision. We do not develop algorithms. We do offer a third party service with Isabel Healthcare, which uses a machine learning approach. Our users may enter any number of symptoms, and be shown a range of possible conditions.
- Generate evidence of effectiveness for the intended use and value for money. Integral to our offer to all customers is standard reporting on usage, patient service, timeliness and efficiency through the use of askmyGP. We provide an economic model (Loadmaster), configurable by each customer, which demonstrates their value for money. We also conduct our own analysis of performance and value and may publish on this site and in other media from time to time.
- Make security integral to the design. From the outset of design, security has been built into askmyGP. Key features include:
- N3/HSCN access required for all live patient data by providers.
- Encryption of all patient data in transit and at rest
- Strength checked passwords required for all users.
- Separate code and database for live and demo systems
- Independent penetration testing and fulfillment of all comments raised.
- Define the commercial strategy. Our strategy is that self-funding customers should see a high rate of return from their investment, and do so from the date of launch (typically four weeks from engagement). Growth is therefore not dependent on taxpayer funding, but on efficiency and financial savings generated through the use of our services.
Harry Longman, 21 February 2019
We’re delighted to have reached a milestone today, just over four months after launching version 3. Steve Black our chief analyst told us:
“At 08:31 this morning Aisha at Balaam Street closed the 100,000th patient episode.”
Wonderful to know that in the absence of a functioning government, some things keep rolling along.
History is informative but I’m even more excited about the present, as we announce today the launch of video consulting through our askmyGP platform.
- No app to download
- No need to change surgeries
- Works on any device with a camera
- Your own NHS GP initiates the call
The first ones have happened already, one GP telling me of a child he could see happily running around- saving a visit, and a mole he could tell was benign – giving reassurance. Another tells me of checking on a wound and saving a whole morning off work for a patient.
The experience was easy for both parties, with high quality pictures over wi-fi, and no cumbersome pre-booking arrangements.
Video consults are driven by what is clinically appropriate in the GP’s view, and it’s going to be so interesting to see how this mode affects practice. My guess is it will be around 5 – 10% of consults, but this is the thing: we don’t know.
Have a lovely evening.
Looking out on the rain, memories quickly fade of, for once, that glorious bank holiday weekend.
In GP land you may have noticed a lighter week too, because demand is predictably sensitive to weather – whether warm sunshine or heavy snow.
We need to qualify the effect however, because if your system is book ahead and wait, lower demand only shows up as a smaller backlog and maybe less pressure on reception. You will still see the same number of patients who have patiently waited whatever the urgency of their need, and it will feel like a treadmill.
The point of a demand-flow system is that there’s always plenty of capacity for the predicted demand, and if it comes in below prediction, you can enjoy the sunshine. A colleague of mine visited one practice we work with on Thursday lunchtime and there were just no patients, time for chat.
Now with summer on the way it is of course the perfect time to put that demand-flow system in place but let me tell you about a real problem we are struggling with.
I can name three practices right now where they are very clear on the challenges they face, they can’t cope with the workload, they know the service is terrible, and their receptionists are getting abuse every single day.
They’ve done a thorough analysis, all the surveys, know exactly what to do, and four GP partners can hardly wait to get going. But one, or perhaps two, partners have dug their heels in.
I’m a great fan of the partner model for a host of reasons, and I haven’t seen a better one, but it has its drawbacks. One partner can veto any change. They are condemning the others to live with the same or worsening situation. Why isn’t there a veto on doing nothing?
Fundamentally I think this imbalance in favour of inaction is holding GPs back, perhaps the whole profession, even if a majority can see what needs to be done.
Are you in this situation or do you have any suggestions?
Meanwhile two north east practices launch on Monday and let’s hope they enjoy the summer.
PS: One who did act was Dr Sue Arnott and she joins us for this Thursday’s webinar at 1pm.
Some background on how she came to be running a 4,700 practice as a single hander here.
Many have asked for the first in the series recorded, so it’s here, 45 minutes, “Exploding the myths of online consultations”
NHS England has trialled four digital versions of NHS111 in an attempt to shift channel from telephone to online.
An internal report dated December 2017 and obtained through HSJ reveals the astonishingly low take up of these heavily marketed pilots. Download the full report here:
Data contained within the report shows the four trials covered a population of 7.5m for the period February to June 2017. The total completed digital triages came to 8671.
A separate chart shows NHS111 telephone volume at around 1 million per month, for a population of 50m.
The digital trials covered around 15% of the population, and over the 5 months of the trial would see pro rata around (15% x 1,000,000 x 5 months) = 750,000 calls.
Digital triages therefore accounted for 8671/750,000 = 1.2%
We know that the digital option was heavily marketed in the four pilot areas, in the public domain, GP surgeries and through IVR messages. We have no idea of the costs incurred.
We can see by comparing the charts that conversions from “I registered or downloaded the digital solution” to “I completed a triage” range from about 60% for Babylon and Sensely to 30% for Pathways and 10% for Expert 24.
Figures given on dispositions are compared to 111 phone triage dispositions and what is striking is the similarity. Much is made of the 18% advised to self-care. However, it is very disturbing to see 20% advised to call 999 or go to emergency. Compared with GP audits of their demand, which they rate at around 0.5% as emergency, these are astonishing numbers. Work we have analysed with a GP led OOH service showed GP disposition to ambulance at 1.4%.
Following the advice of the algorithms would multiply use of emergency services by a factor of 10 to 20.
Worse than this, we suspect that the low take up means the diseases entered are highly unrepresentative of the overal disease burden, and are likely skewed to conditions which are “easy to triage” and therefore less acute.
Given the above analyses, and if you knew the eye-watering costs incurred, what would you do?
PS The conclusion of the report’s author may surprise you, page 4:
The learning from these pilots supplemented with data from other health systems and from
other online services would continue to support the case for an online interface for urgent
care. This evaluation does not recommend one product over another but demonstrates that all
products have some similarities and differences but all products tend to support channel shift
and management of demand whilst providing patients with a good experience.
To gain further understanding of NHS111 Online and the impact on the health system, larger
data sets and linked data will need to be considered. Therefore, the expansion of pilots and
further analysis will enable a more robust evaluation.
When there’s a chink of light in the dead of winter (and wall to wall NHS crisis on the BBC) we have something to celebrate.
I spoke with Dr Sue Arnott, who runs a practice of 4,600 patients in a traditional ex-mining community in central Scotland. She had tried for months and failed to recruit a GP, so is now running single handed, supported by an ANP and further part time nurses.
She explained how they are now up to about 60% of demand online, of which she responds by secure message to about 60%, largely without even a phone call. It means she has time for all the patients’ needs, in the appropriate mode, today, and is on top of demand, feeling in control.
How? There’s no coercion involved, just that the receptionists point the patients to the website, show them where to start and help as needed. If not possible, they’ll take the request by phone. And patients are very very happy.
When we were first in touch in the autumn I was more than a little concerned about the few GP sessions for the list size, and said they’d need to go all out for change. They have, they love it and they are providing a fabulous service. That’s my cause for celebration, because anyone can do it.
Philip Hammond is not going to bung any more money into the NHS. Even if he did, Jeremy Hunt is not going to magic 5,000 GPs out of thin air. (and I submit that it’s immoral to recruit them from nations where doctors are even scarcer).
Patient demand is not going to go away because we tell them to self-care more (we’ve been telling them for decades. They know).
So we have the demand that we have, and the GPs that we have. But by changing the system in every practice in the UK, which is up to every GP in the UK, we can manage.
Indeed we can thrive, like one practice in Lanarkshire.
PRESS RELEASE 3 January 2018:
askmyGP overcomes NHS Choices search gremlins with new free webapp
Patients are being urged more than ever to self-care, in order to cut demand on NHS GPs in the winter season. While NHS Choices provides high quality advice, until now searching the site has been hit and miss.
askmyGP, the leading online consultation platform, announces today a free version which lets patients search NHS Choices with a unique smart search algorithm.
Founder Harry Longman explains the reasoning:
“We’ve always directed patients to seek self-care advice from NHS Choices. It covers virtually every medical condition, the information is clearly presented, evidence based, and free. It carries no advertising and never tries to sell to patients, whether medications or consultations, as other sites do.”
But the weak area has been search. Put “Back of knee hurting” into NHS Choices and you’ll see “La Bomba dance workout video” – not exactly what you were hoping for.
The same phrase entered into askmyGP takes you straight to knee pain and its potential causes.
Many similar examples are exactly as entered by real patients. “3yr old holds his breath”, NHS Choices: Your guide to an echocardiogram. Or Dentures. Perhaps not.
“Had coff for over 5 weeks”, gets you Norman’s Hip Op video.
Try all these in the askmyGP demo site and compare with NHS Choices itself, even though all our content is provided by NHS Choices. What patients want is a smart but sympathetic search which won’t quibble over how they spell diarrhoea (we’ve found the right page with hundreds of spellings in askmyGP, from diria to dhearrorrea).
We don’t believe NHS Choices content should be reformatted and sold back to the NHS for private profit, as some suppliers have done. What we sell is the askmyGP online consultation system, helping more GPs and patients every week (over 25,000 episodes managed so far).
We’re giving away the very best we can offer to help patients self-care. The askmyGP search webapp is available from January 2018 to all NHS practices and organisations, no strings attached, it’s free, for everyone and for anything.
Note to editors: askmyGP is provided by GP Access Ltd, founded in 2011 with the vision “To transform access to medical care.” We are serving NHS GP practices, CCGs and Health Boards in all four countries of the UK.
Chief Executive Harry Longman, 01509 816293, mobile 07939 148618
With the publication in this week’s BMJ of the Tele-First study into the telephone first model of general practice, you would expect me to read carefully and respond. So here are the headlines:
- 65% of patients report being phoned by a GP in less than one hour.
- 56% of patients find it more convenient vs 22% less convenient
- Large improvement in length of time to be seen, 20% move in GPPES survey.
At a time when we are told repeatedly that patients are having to wait ever longer to see a GP, often measured in weeks, these are quite astonishing figures, all quoted direct from the report. But, dear reader, these are not the headlines you have seen in Pulse or the BMJ Editorial are they? Studies, and the interpretation of studies, are political. We have an interest, and so does everyone else.
Therefore the first thing I want you to do is read the full text so you can make your own mind up independent of headline writers. It is much more detailed than the print version, framed by an angry looking GP model and a scared looking patient model, giving more space to a commentary piece than the actual study.
There is much to absorb but for brevity I’ll comment on the summary section.
What is already known on this topic
- GPs are struggling with the current demands on general practice and looking for effective ways to manage patient demand
- Claims have been made, reproduced in NHS England literature, that a telephone first approach, in which all patients wanting to see a GP are asked to speak to a GP on the phone first, results in major cost savings for primary care and reductions in secondary care costs
We do not make those claims, they were made on the home page of PPC Doctor First, a 20% drop in A&E and £30,000 saving per GP per annum. I’m grateful to the authors for proving these false. *
What this study adds
- In general practice, many problems can be dealt with by a GP on the phone
- The new telephone first approach resulted in more phone calls, fewer face to face consultations, and, on average, more time spent consulting
- There was wide variation between individual practices, including large increases and large decreases in workload after adoption of the telephone first approach
- There was no evidence that the telephone first approach would reduce costs of secondary care
In a way it is disappointing to see no secondary care effect, but not unexpected and unless the evidence changes, that is what we accept.
But what has really got GPs aerated is this finding of “more time spent consulting”. This was derived from data sent by us to the study, which we have not used to make a calculation on workload for several reasons: much of it is missing (and as the authors state, had to be imputed), it shows wide variation, and it cannot account for total workload. Let’s consider:
Workload = demand/efficiency + non-clinical work + waste
We do not have a reliable way to measure the total, and given that the study used only one of our three datasets, I don’t see how they can make this assessment. Just one example: many practices have told us of the drop in home visits, each one saving the time for many surgery consultations. This is not measured. It may be a good thing to have more recorded time consulting, if less time is wasted. Not only does this finding seem to me unsafe, it also brings us back to the question of purpose, for the study and indeed for the NHS.
If the purpose is to minimise GP workload, we can do so very simply: design the working day so you see 4 or 5 patients in the morning, take a good lunch and a nap, then spend a little time in personal reflection and development before heading home., purpose achieved.
I’ve worked with a lot of very hard working GPs and they would not be satisfied with that purpose. No, the purpose of general practice and therefore the purpose of change must be to improve patient care.
There’s a missing term in the workload formula, and that is “unmet need”. Behind those words lies untold suffering and frustration of patients, heard perhaps by a receptionist (one wrote last week, “I dread having to tell the patients there’s nothing left”) while others do not even get through on the phone. This is the dirty secret of general practice, and over many years we’ve measured it in practices we’ve helped, variable around an average of 14%.
One in seven patients is told to go away. Although we offered this data to the study team, they didn’t want it and took no account of it.
Their figures cannot distinguish between the workload of one GP helping 30 patients in a day, who had all waited two weeks, and another helping 40 patients in a day, on the same day they called. It could be life changing for those 10 patients, indeed all 40 of them for not having to suffer two weeks of disease, pain, or anxiety.
Both GPs may have equal skill and compassion, but the difference comes from efficiency.
By framing the question on workload rather than efficiency, the study misses a huge opportunity. It offers no help on how to become more efficient, and while it found wide variation in performance, the data were munged into averages rather than investigating in detail why the best ones worked better.
I’ll tell you a secret: we’re in this for the patients. To help the patients we have to help the GPs be more efficient. There is never a final answer to the method, there is only “the best we know for now, while we look for the still better way”.
We’ve helped around a million patients so far, with another 50,000 to be added in the next month. and as telephone triage (done well) is more efficient than pre-booked face to face, digital triage is already proving to be the next step. Sometimes we fail, but we press on.
Every day over 100,000 patients are told by practice receptionists “Nothing left, call another day”. Not on any basis of clinical need, just because the GPs have no slots.
It’s my personal mission to eliminate that phrase. What’s yours?
* The 20% A&E effect came from my 2011 study, based on pioneer practices with up to 10 years running the model, and promising at the time. The figure was copied by Dr First but never attributed. We could not show that the effect was reproducible, and therefore stopped making any specific claim about A&E 3 years ago. £30,000 saving? We make no such claims, although if GPs tell us about savings we are happy to report them. Why did NHS England swallow this?
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 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
On cloud 9, or, “In a state of blissful happiness” is perhaps a little overstating it, but we are delighted to be on the government’s G-Cloud 9 Procurement Framework from 22nd May 2017. [Note G-Cloud 9 was withdrawn in July 2018. We are now on its successor G-Cloud 10.]
Phrases like “procurement framework” tend to bring me back down to earth with a bump, but I think this one could mean something really good, and I quote from the gov.uk Digital Marketplace:
“Buying services through frameworks is faster and cheaper than entering into individual procurement contracts.”
Right, so there’s one agreement set up between the Crown Commercial Service and us, following all the OJEU rules and thoroughly tested for compliance with all the relevant standards: NHS IGToolkit, Clinical Safety standards for software SCCI 0129/0160, secure hosting and communication on N3, you name it, all the painful, boring but essential stuff.
Yes it has been painful and I pay tribute to all the GP Access team and our partners who have done such a grand job in getting us there. It is right and proper for the process to be thorough as patient safety and information security are paramount. We have seen too much lately of what can go wrong, yet we must not lose sight of the great benefits that technology can enable for our health service.
In the first couple of weeks we’ve seen over 700 patients use the new askmyGP to get help online. One emailed Concord practice at 9.14am last Monday, a time when patients in most practices would still be hanging on the phone, trying to get through. She already had her problem sorted by the GP and just wanted to say thank you for the outstanding service.
Now that’s what really gets me on cloud 9.
PPS The application process did have its lighter moments, my favourite being where you have to agree to the statement that “all the above statements are true”. Unbeatable logic.