Over the past year, many GP practices have turned to askmyGP to help them navigate the challenges the pandemic has presented. The Grove Medical Centre in Swansea, which covers a patient population of approximately 7,500 people, has been using askmyGP since April 2020. We spoke with Dr Jack Williams, one of the four GP partners at The Grove, about his experience of the system and the benefits it offers the practice.
Triage system working for all types of patients
Before the pandemic, the system in place at The Grove ensured patients always experienced excellent availability of appointments, with almost all patients being seen on the same day they requested an appointment. There was no triage system in place as there was no need for one. When Covid-19 began to surge in the UK, the practice team decided that a triage system would be vital to maintain the quality of service and for the safety of patients and staff. Following a short implementation period, The Grove launched askmyGP at the beginning of April.
The team wasn’t sure how patients would take to it, but the initial feedback they received was very positive. Dr Williams says: “What we found was that it was actually a very good time to implement a new system because the pandemic meant people were more accepting and understanding of the need to change.”
The Grove has a wide patient demographic, with many different ages and levels of deprivation represented. The practice has found that most people have been able to use the new system with no problems, with the data showing that even patients over 90 are accessing the practice online.
The practice expected a small number of people would still need to access the practice via phone, however, as Dr Williams explains: “We are encouraging people to go online, but that is not a barrier – we knew there would be people who don’t have access to the internet and these patients tend to be our more vulnerable members of society. The phone lines are still open, and in fact askmyGP has benefitted these vulnerable patients by making our phone lines less busy for them, so those that do call find it easier to get through.”
No effect on clinical judgement or prescribing activity
An area of concern around the increased use of digital tools such as total triage and remote consultations has been the effect this may have on clinical prescribing behaviour. Health Foundation research, however, found no significant evidence of the askmyGP model affecting prescribing rates. This aligns with the experience of GPs at The Grove Medical Centre.
Dr Williams says: “For us, it’s not all about e-consulting. Yes askmyGP allows us to e-consult, but the benefit for us is that it is a triage system with the capability to do an e-consult if we wish. We can respond to people with a message on the system, but we will still call the patient or conduct a patient examination if needed. We are conscious not to allow these new ways of consulting affect our clinical judgement and our data shows that we actually see more patients face to face, than are requesting this type of consultation.”
Matching demand and capacity to ensure requests are resolved quickly
The practice team was keen to ensure that they were able to continue resolving as many requests as possible on the same day they came in. The data askmyGP provides The Grove shows that requests are resolved on average 116 minutes after they were made. The data also enables a more proactive approach to staffing, as the practice is able to predict demand at weekly, daily, and even hourly levels.
This has been enormously helpful during the pandemic, says Dr Williams. “The visibility of demand that askmyGP offers has enabled us to rearrange rotas and match our capacity to that. This also helps with staff morale, as it means we can aim for all the staff being equally busy on different days.”
Image: Swansea Marina © Crown copyright (2013) Visit Wales