Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, GPs throughout Dorset have been asking people to consider alternative ways of contacting them in order to help reduce the spread of the virus amongst local communities and minimising their own personal risk.

This has included online, video and telephone remote consultations along with eConsult – an online system which enables patients to complete a confidential online form which is then sent to their GP practice who will respond by 6.30pm the following day to offer advice, provide a prescription or an appointment if necessary or arrange for referral to a different service.

These consultations are triaged by the most appropriate member of the practice, most often the GP but equally could be a pharmacist or Nurse, especially when helping patients with long term conditions. If a patient needs a test, this will be arranged, if the GP needs to speak to the patient they may be offered a telephone or even video consultation, if a face to face appointment isn’t necessary or safe, or if it is simply advice requested this could also be provided via SMS or email.

In April 2020 over 16,000 eConsults were completed by Dorset patients this also has the added advantage of saving, the equivalent of up to 1,500 hours of GP time.

In the coming months, as the country moves through the next phases of recovery from COVID-19 people registered with GP practices in Dorset are being asked to continue to use technology to enable to get the help they need more quickly and help pressure at local practices.

Dr Lisa Nayler is a GP Partner at Parkstone Tower Practice, part of Shore Medical.

She said “Here at Shore Medical we want to ensure that our registered patients are able to get the right care they need as quickly as possible, and we believe that we are able to do this more effectively by using the technology we have at our disposal.

For example, there are a number of things that people may think they need to see a doctor for, but often these can be better dealt with by another member of the team. By having eConsult, we can ensure that people see the right person at the right time. This has the added advantage of keeping phone lines free for the few, often vulnerable patients, who don’t have or genuinely can’t use the online services”.

Chris Emblen is Senior Primary Care Lead with NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). He said “Since the start of the restrictions on movement in early March, tens of thousands of online consultations have been completed which have allowed patients to be directed to the care they need more quickly whilst at the same time ensuring the GPs can spend more time with those who really need their time and expertise. As we move forward towards ‘normality’ many patients we have spoken to want to carry on using this approach, they’ve told us being able to take time thinking about what they want to tell the GP is so much better. To be able to have a consultation without taking time off work is great. Some patients are anxious of coming into the practices and this technology has helped them stay safe but continue to be supported.”

For more information on how best to contact and support your GP visit your practice website.