Health chiefs in the north-east have announced the roll-out of digital consultations in a bid to keep patients and staff safe from Covid-19.
NHS Grampian, along with the Integration Joint Boards (IJBs) in Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray, has launched the new eConsult platform.
It allows patients to fill out their symptoms online or make requests to their GP by filling out a questionnaire and also enables doctors to access a patient’s medical history within minutes.
The health board has launched the new service to reduce waiting times and ensure those who need face-to-face consultations can access them as early as possible.
Simon Bokor-Ingram, chief officer of health and social care, explained: “Our practices were facing a range of challenges, such as high volumes of calls, long appointment wait times and now finding ways to support patients during Covid-19.
“We wanted to find a solution for them that would help ease this burden and ensure that they could provide the best possible care.
“eConsult has allowed patients to receive care wherever they are, at any time, and doesn’t require them to phone or visit a practice unless they have to.
“For example, whereas before patients would have to attend the practice for long-term condition reviews, they can now quickly complete a form online updating their doctor on their condition, who can then review this and decide on the best course of action remotely.
“This has eased pressure on staff who can now prioritise their patients and their workload.”
Mr Bokor-Ingram added: “It has also benefited patients. Those in rural areas who would have to travel long distances to their practice can now access care from home and patients no longer have to make unnecessary trips to their surgery.
“For those who don’t have internet access or need to speak to or see a clinician, they can now get through to the practice quicker as other patients are being treated remotely and not taking up as much time.”
NHS Grampian and the three IJBs are responsible for the healthcare of around 500,000 people across the north-east.
Many of them have already been able to take advantage of the eConsult service as it has been rolled out at 51 practices in the region in recent months.
Dr Amir Iqbal, a GP at Denburn Medical Practice, said: “Being able to care for patients remotely during the pandemic has been so important.
“It has made it possible for us to ensure that we are still there for our patients if they need us while also keeping them safe from the risk of infection.
“It’s allowed them to receive treatment, their prescriptions and referrals when they have needed them and ensured only those that had to attend the practice did so, protecting staff as well in the process.”
Bosses at the health board hope more practices will now make use of the opportunity to use the technology.
Mr Bokor-Ingram said: “Technology has the ability to really help GP practices and we have seen this first hand with those that are using eConsult.
“Having systems in place to ensure people can quickly and safely receive care, without putting themselves or staff at risk, will be vital.
“Based on our experience, we would encourage others to consider using online consultations as a way to benefit practices and patients now and in the future.”