Devon’s GP practices are helping the fight against COVID-19 by enabling patients to consult their doctor without leaving the house, either online, by the telephone or through video.
More than 90% of the county’s practices have now signed up to the eConsult online platform, which allows patients to access services from their smartphone, tablet or computer.
This represents a significant increase for Devon, which already ranked among the leading areas in the country for online consultation usage. Last month (March) more than 34,000 eConsults were processed by practices across Devon.
Using online and video consultations are in addition to the regular practice telephone. Patients who are unable to use online services can continue to call their practice in the normal way.
Dr John McCormick, Devon GP and Chief Clinical Information Officer for NHS Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, believes the upsurge is an important step in battling the coronavirus and easing pressure on services.
“Of Devon’s 124 practices, 114 now offer eConsult, and another four are in the process of implementing it,” he said.
“This is extremely encouraging, because it shows our GPs are quickly adapting to new technology – including phone and video consultations – to continue providing care during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Not only does eConsult allow patients to consult their GP from the comfort of their own home, but it also helps protect the public, patients and members of our health service by limiting their exposure to infection.
“Increased eConsult usage is also helping to relieve pressure on services and manage the increasing demand that already existed, pre-pandemic. What we find is that the majority of face-to-face GP consultations are used to discuss issues that could be carried out remotely. Of course, there are still times when it is necessary to see patients to perform a more detailed examination, but this helps us determine when that’s essential.”
Patients are also embracing the new technology. In the last week, more than 2,200 video consultations took place in Devon, which is among the highest of any area in the country.
A patient of Dr McCormick’s Kingskerswell Medical Practice, said: “I recently had a video consultation on my iPhone with my own doctor and all I can say is that it was excellent.
“It was really clear; he could see me and my ailments and I could see and hear him clearly. It was like being sat in the surgery with him. He sent me the link, which I downloaded, and followed the simple instructions.”
eConsult is available through individual practice websites and involves filling out a short online form. This allows patients to ask about an existing condition or new symptoms, find out how to treat themselves and request sick notes. eConsult includes a wealth of self-help tools, such as symptom-checkers and videos, and signposts patients to additional help, including pharmacies, the NHS 111 helpline or approved apps.
Information that patients submit online is reviewed by a member of the practice team. The practice gets in touch by the end of the next working day to let patients know the next step. This might be a phone consultation, advice on how the patients can treat themselves, a prescription or a face-to-face appointment, if it’s necessary.
As well as helping battle the coronavirus, eConsult can also make life easier for patients as they can use the services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means they avoid queueing on the phone and get the care they need more quickly. It also provides an alternative for patients who find it difficult discussing their condition face-to-face.
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