I have been meeting Chelmsford GPs to understand better how they are using new triage methods to get better treatments and appointments for patients.
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There are more GP appointments available in Chelmsford than ever before, but demand is also very high.
At Melbourne House Surgery I met Dr Radford. The practice works with Tennyson House and Humber Road Surgeries through the Chelmer Medical Partnership. They have recently installed a £25,000 digital triage system.
The doctors have set up a “hub” which is manned during office hours by two GPs (three on Monday) and highly trained medical assistants. Every message that comes from patients into the digital system is reviewed that day. More urgent messages are reviewed very promptly.
At the messages hub, the GP team can assess each email and make a GP-led decision about how best to help the patient. Urgent cases that need seeing by a GP same day are contacted and offered an appointment that day, others may be offered a future appointment if that is more appropriate for their needs.
Some patients may not need to see a GP, for example if it is obvious from the patient’s message that they need a prescription, then the GP assessing the message may decide to issue the prescription directly without needing to bring the patient for a GP appointment.
The GPs can also assess whether the patient’s needs would be better met by another medical professional such as a physiotherapist, in which case the patient will be offered an appointment with that professional rather than a GP appointment.
The GPs explained that they believe that offering GP led system is much better for making sure patients get the best appointment for their needs rather than the old system, whereby patients needed to call a receptionist or wait to speak to a receptionist to book an appointment.
Receptionists are still available at the surgery. Patients that can not use to online system are able to speak to the receptionist (by phone or face to face). For these patients, the receptionist is able to use the online system to get directly in contact with the GP team at the hub and they will be able to allocate a same day GP appointment, if that is what the patient needs, or other appointment/treatment as appropriate.
At Mountbatten House Surgery I met Dr Dollery and Dr Strickland. This surgery works with Moulsham Lodge surgery and the Danbury Medical Centre through the Beacon Health Group. The Doctors explained that every morning there are two GPs running clinics at the two smaller surgeries of Mountbatten House and Moulsham Lodge. These clinics are largely for non-urgent routine GP appointments but a few appointments in each of these clinics are held for urgent same day face to face appointments for those that need to see a GP that day and can not travel.
In Danbury the building is much larger. Here they also run a service which they call a “Hub” but this is an urgent medical care hub rather than a digital hub. This hub is for same day appointments for urgent cases for patients in all 3 of the Mountbatten, Moulsham and Danbury surgeries. This hub has GPs, nurses, physiotherapists and other professionals available, and so can offer more services than is possible at one of the two smaller surgeries.
The Beacon Health doctors explained to me that for their surgeries the biggest issue is the pressure on meeting the need non-urgent, but necessary, routine GP appointments. They are also therefore investing in a new online consultation system which will be called e-consult. Like the Chelmer Medical Partnership practices, this new online system will enable GPs to assess and triage every patient request for GPs support and allocate the most appropriate appointment or treatment for their patient. This new online system will be rolled out by the practice this autumn. Again, receptionists will remain available too.