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In the news: Health study finds online GP consultation pilot “limited”

As the NHS looks for new ways to cut waiting times and doctor workloads it seems that online GP consultations might not be the answer, according to a study.

Despite £45 million in funding being earmarked to support GP practices in introducing online consultations, the study, carried out by the University of Bristol and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, found that eConsult’s effectiveness was “limited”.

The system, which allows patients to submit their symptoms to a GP electronically, was piloted in 36 GP practices in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

38% of online consultations necessitated a face-to-face appointment, and an additional 32% required a telephone call. Out of 1,000 patients just two decided to have an online consultation.

Dr Jeremy Horwood, of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, says: “Online consultations may have value for some patients, such as straightforward medical enquiries, but they cannot replace face-to-face consultations in situations which are more complex”.

The research revealed that patients who took part valued eConsult for its more administrative uses and simple enquiries, such as requesting ‘fit notes’ or repeat prescriptions, and also for talking about infections or back or knee pain.

CEO of eConsult, Dr Murray Ellender, said that the system had been updated to include allowing patients to have a consultation for several symptoms for new and existing conditions, as well as uploading images, nominating a GP and specifying language.

eConsult also states that it put all recommendations from their research into practice, following a pilot of 15 months. 


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