Swindon GPs use online forms to reduce phone waiting times

Doctors at two practices in Swindon say the new online forms are the best way to overcome problems with making appointments caused by the pandemic.

Patients continually reported waiting hours on the phone trying to get to GP surgeries only to find there were no appointments available for weeks.

Arpit Srivastava said the new technology would “relieve the strain on the phone lines” and was the best way out of the current backlog crisis.

He said: “It’s really frustrating for patients sitting on the phone for hours just to be told there’s no appointment.

“Now they can fill out a form and they’ll get a response with an appointment. Call wait times at practices using this software are now less than ten minutes.”

He spoke at a meeting with the public organized by the Great Western Hospital Trust, which has taken over management of Abbey Meads Medical Center and Moredon Medical Center, about the pressures of the pandemic on GP surgeries.

Even though medical practices have expanded their workforce by recruiting more GPs, practitioners, pharmacists and physiotherapists, there was a general consensus during the discussion that ‘resourcing’ the problem does not was not the answer.

Practices are now using eConsult, an online form that acts like a virtual doctor by asking all the initial questions that clinicians would ask. The responses given are then reviewed by a GP who decides on the patient’s needs and ensures that urgent conditions are treated as a priority.

Dr Srivastava said: “To train another GP from scratch takes at least 13 years. There is also a general shortage of clinical resources in many other countries.

“Previously, patients were registered with a GP when they could have had their medication reviewed by a pharmacist.

“Using technology to juggle these elements will free up capacity with GPs.

“I am convinced that this is the way forward and will play a very important role in improving accessibility.”

Another doctor, Amit Srivastava, added: “One thing that goes without saying is that there has been an unprecedented demand for GPs since the first lockdown. We have not been able to cope even to locum GPs despite having devoted as many resources as possible to the backlog.

“We’re hoping to clear the backlog over the next few months or a year and hopefully we can meet that demand. We’re working hard to do that.”

GPs also revealed that patient feedback on online consultations has been largely positive and has improved accessibility.

GPs had to change their methods overnight from typical face-to-face appointments to virtual ones when the pandemic started.

Dr Srivastava revealed that the video software has been praised by hearing-impaired patients, patients who speak other languages, commuters or those unable to attend surgery.

Melvin G. Rodriguez