The GMS contractual requirement for practices to offer patients the opportunity to book and cancel appointments and order repeat prescriptions online prompted many surgeries to explore the advantages of the features offered by their clinical IT systems, designed to enable the streamlined provision of such services.
Whether you use EMIS, Vision, SystmOne or another similar clinical system, you will probably be aware that there are numerous features available aside from online appointments and repeat prescription ordering. But are you putting them to effective use and drawing benefits both for your practice and for your patients, as well as using them to fulfil your contractual obligations to offer online access to GP records?
Patient Online Services and Contractual Requirements
Patient Online services became an integral part of contractual requirements in 2015, with practices required to offer and promote patients’ online access to appointment booking and management together with repeat prescription ordering and access to detailed coded information held in patients’ records.
All clinical IT systems support patient online services through the likes of Patient Access (EMIS), Patient Services (Vision) and SystmOnline (SystmOne). These services include the core contractual transactions such as online appointments and repeat prescriptions plus the contractual requirements concerning patient records access including the more recently introduced requirement to include coded information on test results, immunisations, illnesses, allergies and medication within patient records. Additionally, the systems allow for the sending of secure messages and for patients to update their own contact details.
Whilst meeting contractual requirements is of course a very good reason to be making good use of what patient online services have to offer, there are numerous further benefits to consider.
Practice Benefits – Time and Resource Savings
Firstly, where patients are booking or cancelling appointments themselves online, they are not putting pressure on practice time spent dealing with such transactions on the telephone or in person. Online ordering of repeat prescriptions offers the same advantage and, if patients are able to update their contact details themselves and send messages via a secure enquiry form, then again there will be no need for telephone calls or in-person visits. The result: time and resource savings across practice administration.
Summary of Benefits:
- Reduced telephone calls and surgery visits to make, cancel or re-schedule appointments
- Time overheads saved for both practice staff and patients
- Meeting contractual requirements at practice level
Patient Benefits – Convenience, Privacy, Flexibility
In terms of patient benefits, again there are many. We all lead busy lives and finding the time to make a call to book an appointment or order a repeat prescription can be a challenge, particularly if you need to make that call in private. If you can instead pick up your mobile phone during your lunch break or on the way to work and book an appointment, the task becomes so much easier. Online services allow patients to carry out transactions outside surgery opening hours and when it would otherwise be difficult to get through on the telephone, so offering a higher degree of flexibility.
Summary of Benefits:
- Patients like the ease, convenience and control of making and managing their appointments online
- Patients report that they have found it easier to select their preferred GP
- Online services are available when the practice is closed or busy
- Apps for modular devices will make access to booking appointments easy and convenient
- Greater trust and communication between the practice and patients
- Support for carers of patients with dementia and children with complex conditions
- Increased patient ownership and control of their health care and treatment plans
- Improved convenience and service quality for patients
Any type of consumer of today – patient, service user or shopper – expects to be able to transact online. It is far more convenient, private, faster and much easier.
Time to Embrace Digital Technology?
NHS England reports that patients have told them that they want to take more control of their own health and well-being. Through the Patient Online programme, NHS England is encouraging practices to embrace digital technology which they say has the power to change the relationship between patients and their GP practices in the same way relationships with other service providers such as finance and shopping have been positively transformed.
Patient Online services can be seamlessly integrated with a GP practice website and the system providers have worked hard to make it as straightforward as possible for patients to sign up and get started in managing their transactions and records online.
For practices looking to boost engagement with patients and bolster loyalty, and for those looking to attract new patients, there is a clear need to be offering a full range of online services. Even if your practice already makes a fundamental offering in order to meet contractual obligations, it is well worth considering giving that offering a boost. The more appointments that are offered for online booking, and the more services made available for online management, the more satisfied the patients and the more improved the productivity of practice staff.
If you would like to explore the integration of Patient Online services into your website or would like to find out about setting up a new website for your practice, why not talk to the NHS IT experts at Tree View Designs? With extensive experience working at the heart of the NHS alongside practice managers, medical practitioners, admin staff and patients, GP practices are offered invaluable insight and expertise at the highest level.