Patient Online, lighting wet sticks

Patient Online is the campaign by NHS England to get everyone going digital with their GP practice.

Despite the £millions in marketing, it has failed to light.  Like blowing on wet twigs to start a fire, you just know that blowing harder isn’t going to work.

There are some achievements.  97% of practices offer online services (they have to, it’s in the contract).  And 12% of patients have registered to use them.  It’s quite easy, do so if you haven’t yet.  Repeat prescription orders are running at about 1.3 million a month (all figures from HSCIC)

The problem is with online booking.  At 800,000 a month, they are only about 3% of all appointments.  97% are booked in the traditional way, phone up and wait, or turn up and queue.

It’s not hard to see why.  The problem for general practice is GP capacity, and online booking saves no time for GPs.  There is no incentive to allow patients to book themselves into 10 minutes of GP time, without assessing need.

So practices understandably restrict access to online bookings, typically by requiring at least a week book ahead.  91% of patients needing a GP want the same day, and there’s rarely anything to book into today.

Yet 75% of those same people go online for health information, and 50% use the internet to self diagnose (DH figures, item 6).  Why not?  They do everything else online.

No, the answer is, we need to enable patients to seek help online.  It has to work every time, and it has be from someone they trust, their own practice or GP.  2 out of 3 neither need nor want a 10 minute face to face.

There lies the opportunity which Patient Online has missed.  It must work for patients and for GPs.  That will self ignite.

Dr Sara Cowell

Founder, Chief Executive
Dot Community Health Ltd

PS We’ll be talking on this at the King’s Fund conference,

Pressure points: how can we support primary care to cope with increasing demand? 

Tuesday 24 November | The King’s Fund, London W1G 0AN
Find out more here

5 responses to “Patient Online, lighting wet sticks”

  1. Chris Frith says:

    I am not sure £millions have been spent on marketing and I disagree whilst it is not blazing it has ignited. Do you have evidence that practices restrict online booking in the way you say? They don’t have appointments due to capacity problems and so this is the same for telephone and online access. My own practice offers on the day online telephone appointment slots, which are reliable and this is extending nationally as practices gain online access confidence.

    • Dr Sara Cowell says:

      I have tried with local practices, and discussed with a number of practice managers, finding that they make few available online and these are taken early, often as soon as they go up. Agreed that on the day telephone slots is a good idea. I don’t know how common this is. We’ve seen a great deal of publicity, and statements about 97% of practices having the facility, so I’m making an assessment from the figures of what has happened.
      The problem, as you say, is capacity, and my real concern is that online booking does not address that central issue.

  2. Steve Rafferty says:

    I am very interested where you found the 3% of patients booking appointment online figure from. As you say 97% of practices offer this facility so 3% is very, very poor !!!

  3. Dr Sara Cowell says:

    Details of monthly usage are available on the HSCIC link in the blog. We estimate around 5 appts/patient/year, so we can work out the total number of bookings and therefore the % online.

  4. Steve Rafferty says:

    I have found the stats now. I was looking more at practices that are offering access to full records which is another patient online stat that appears not to be going going in the right direction.I have always said that patient power should be driving digital services but unfortunately they don’t appear to be interested. WHY?

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