2.7% of GP appointments booked online. Oh dear.

This week NHS England has been flying the flag, proclaiming that 10 million GP appointments will be booked online this year.

The latest projection as I mentioned last week from the NAO is that 368 million appointments will be made in 2015, so 10 million of those represents 2.7%.  In a world lived online, this is very strange, so I thought I’d try to find out why.

As I write, my own practice has exactly one GP appointment available online in the next 7 days, out of around 200 which they’ll give. The picture is similar nationally.

For fun, let’s look at booking airline tickets.  We could choose shopping online, or banking (2.5 billion logins/year), but at 250m flights/year from the UK it’s roughly comparable.  The demographic is not quite the same as seeing a GP, but the overlap is very large.  The CAA did a survey this year which showed 76% of bookings were made online.  I’m surprised it’s not higher.

So is it easier to book a flight?  I’ve tested this, and the absolute minimum if you’ve chosen your airline and already stored your personal and payment details is 30 clicks.  Of course, most bookings will be far more complex and take multiple searches, comparisons and decisions about luggage, seating and trying to avoid buying insurance.

To book my GP appointment takes just 6 clicks, and 11 seconds.

Aha.  The airlines love online booking, it saves them a fortune and you could not conceive of a new airline entering the market without it.  Passengers love the convenience, and will happily spend their time and money complying.

It’s worth it for the providers even more than for the public.

GPs are business people, and they’re not stupid.  They have worked out that it’s deeply against their interests to offer all their appointments online, despite the savings in administration.  They know that if it takes 11 seconds to grab £27 worth of their time, they’ll see a lot of people who don’t need them and a lot of others who do will be left complaining to reception, never mind the clinical safety issues.

Yet the same public, patients now not passengers, do want to seek help online from their GP, if only they could.  By allowing them to seek help, but keeping the GP in control of what help, when and from which clinician, the provider wins too.  askmyGP takes at least 80 clicks, but patients love it and we’ve already seen 45% of demand shift online at one practice. It’s sure to grow.

The airlines made the change all on their own.  NHS England has the resources of the state, enforcement through the GP contract, publicity in every practice, even pays for all the online technology.  And has reached 2.7%.  Turning such an abject failure into success needs new thinking which makes this work for GPs.

Do you agree?  Please comment below.

Dr Sara Cowell

PS  We’ve been looking for several weeks at examples of patient histories submitted online.  I’ve collected them here so you can see how GPs voted to help them.


2 responses to “2.7% of GP appointments booked online. Oh dear.”

  1. Krishna R says:

    Dear Harry,

    You couldn’t have put it any better. I’m the lucky few who insists on my GP/NP to ring me for a teleconf appointment as it’s convenient and cheaper for all. So much resources are wasted in primary care through such abject failure to follow commonsense. GPs continue to feel they represent THEIR interests on CCG Boards rather than Primary Care services and their registered Patients.

  2. Spot on Harry.

    New ways of doing old things is often just wrong. New ways of doing new things is often what’s needed.

    Cheers, Mark

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