The COVID-19 pandemic is seeing health services across the county adopt new ways of working, making the most of online technology to ensure patients continue to get access to the care they need; something that will continue in the future.

Local GP practices are making more use of online triage via eConsult forms which – once completed – help ensure patients are directed to the most appropriate care.

Since the start of lockdown eConsult use has more than doubled with nearly 18,000 being completed in June compared to around 5000 in February.

The main NHS providers in Dorset are also seeing a huge increase in the use of virtual consultations with Attend Anywhere, an online system which allows people to have a secure one-to-one consultation via a video link in the comfort of their own home at a pre-arranged time. Consultations are accessed via existing computers, tablets or smartphones through virtual waiting rooms which notify the clinician when the patient has logged on.

In March 2020, 294 virtual consultations took place in Dorset by June this had risen to 2,813 – an increase of 856%. This equates to over 1000 hours of consultation time across waiting rooms used by the three acute hospitals in Dorchester, Poole and Bournemouth.

The system is also used by Dorset HealthCare which has seen more than 6,300 online consultations take place up to the end of March 2020 for services ranging from mental health and learning disabilities to pain management, minor injuries, physiotherapy and sexual health.

Just one area where Attend Anywhere is being used effectively is Paediatrics which hosted 347 consultations in June, accounting for nearly half (47%) of all consultations.

Victoria Stamp is an Emotional Wellbeing and Support Nurse at Dorset County Hospital. She said “Many of the children I work with have been shielding during the COVID-19 pandemic so we had to look at different ways of working. Virtual consultation allows us to maintain the support they need, at the same time continuing that personal contact and helping to prevent any relapse or decline in their mental health.”

Along with benefits for clinicians, Attend Anywhere has proved popular with those patients who use it.

During a three-week period, those patients who undertook an Attend Anywhere consultation were asked for feedback. Of those who completed the survey 94% said that it was easy or very easy to access the waiting area and join their call. 96% said they would recommend video consultations to a friend or family member.

When asked about the benefits of video consultations, less need to travel and being able to have a consultation without taking time off work scored highly.

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