Perhaps surprisingly, latest figures from askmyGP showing patient contact activity are consistent with those from the equivalent period in 2019. Data show similar volumes of demand by patients, at approximately 6% of the practice list size making a request per week.
When offered a choice of ways to talk to their GP, 12% of patients expressed a preference for a face-to-face appointment, 34% preferred to be contacted by secure message and 50% by phone. Despite the obvious changes in methods of communication clinicians have continue to deliver care to their patients at a similar rate despite the effects of Covid.
Comparisons between years
Overall volumes of activity, expressed as percentage of the practice list making a request of their GP practice, are very similar when the same week is compared between 2020 and 2019. For example, the effects of the Christmas and Easter breaks can be observed in both years (Easter was slightly earlier in 2020), alongside e.g. public holidays in early and late May. Activity throughout the summer is nearly identical between years.
While similar proportions of cases were resolved, the mechanisms used to do so have changed substantially between years. Compared to 2019, responses to patients made less use of face-to-face and more use of secure messages and telephone consultation – the effects of Covid precautions being the most obvious explanation. Visits dropped from 0.92% to 0.53% and video usage remained low at 0.33% (not shown).
The askmyGP data is drawn from practices with diverse patient populations receiving a total of 4,067,068 patient requests during the year to date. The data illustrates patient contact by clinical episode, with video consultation and secure messaging with the patient’s usual NHS GP offered at no extra cost to either the practice or the patient.
Clinical judgement always takes precedence, meaning in some cases simple queries might be addressed by a quick answer by phone or message, while more complex presentations will warrant a face-to-face appointment, even in cases where this has not been requested by the patient. Practices are not bound by their patients’ contact preferences, but they use the information to guide their responses to patients.
Recent analysis by The Health Foundation similarly found that consultation rates changed only slightly – at askmyGP practices activity decreased by less than 1% between 1 March–30 June 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. However, they found there has been a dramatic swing away from face-to-face consultations. Between 1 March–30 June 2020, 8.5% of appointments were held face-to-face, compared to 38% during the same period in 2019. Use of remote consultation methods increased. Telephone appointments increased from 39% to 51%, online message from 23% to 40% and although video increased 50-fold, it remained low at 0.5%.
3 November 2020