GP Provider Support Unit, Birmingham and Solihull

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This is one of RAFT’s ‘access actions‘. Its objective is to work with patients and practice systems to increase the use of online services by patients, measured by the monthly total number of contacts received by the practice via app or the website.

Rationale: Apps and web access enable patients to engage with the practice efficiently and confidentially, reducing time spent waiting on the phone and making easier for the practice to signpost to the most appropriate person or service first time. For practices, they enable reception staff and clinicians to make more efficient use of their time through reducing the number of different people the patient has to speak to and allowing some contacts to be resolved quickly online.

We wish to see the use of services increase. However, there is no appropriate one-size-fits-all approach to access. Online services are not attractive or suitable for all patients, so patients should be able to have the same thorough assessment of their needs on the day they contact the practice if they call or come in as if they use an app or the practice website.

As part of BSol’s Enhanced Service Offer (ESO) practices are required to demonstrate that the number of online contacts per month has increased.

Suggested actions

  • Ensure patients are informed about the availability and benefits of online services through multiple means, such as the practice website, phone messages, newsletters, waiting room information and directly from staff.
    • The NHS nationally has produced a set of resources to support practices with this kind of messaging for patients, including leaflets, posters and a video for the waiting room or website. Read more.
  • Ensure the way that online contacts are processed gives patients confidence this is a good way to contact the practice. For example, ensure that online contacts are processed in a safe and timely way, that potentially urgent needs are identified promptly and that patients are kept informed about how their contact is being responded to.
  • Incorporate digital communications in follow-up care. For example, include direct links to relevant questionnaires when inviting patients to make contact for annual reviews of medication or conditions. Clinicians can also initiate some follow-up consultations digitally, for example by scheduling a text message asking the patient to report on their progress. In many cases, this allows appropriate assessments to be made more quickly by clinicians, as well as reducing the need for patients to take time away from work or caring responsibilities to attend the practice.

Support from the PSU

The Provider Support Unit is supporting improvements in this area in four ways:

  • Public messaging. Developing an ongoing programme of public messaging campaigns, to encourage patients to make more use of online services as a means to get timely and appropriate access in primary care and across the NHS. Further details expected during Autumn 2023.
  • Digital skills. Supporting initiatives to provide more hands-on encouragement for patients who are newer to digital services. Further details expected during Autumn 2023.
  • Digital procurement. Providing expert advice about the options available from the forthcoming updated national framework for online consultation and AI tools.
  • RAFT programme. Providing case examples and planning templates to inform and support practices in their planning. Hosting locality collaboratives to accelerate the sharing and embedding of improvements to practice processes.