A GP’s view of working during COVID-19

Dr Harpal Harrar explains how one GP practice embraced digital technology into the workplace

Digital solutions help GP practices in south east London during COVID-19 

GP practices across south east London (SEL) are looking at ways that will allow staff to work flexibly during the current COVID-19 outbreak while ensuring patients get the best possible care. Some of these solutions include: Flexible Telephony, Remote Access to clinical systems and Online Consultation.

We wanted to share the story of one GP practice with 13,000 registered patients and 10 GPs in Lambeth that has implemented all these solutions from scratch in just 14 days.

What did they do before the crisis?

The surgery had, like many others, tried to get some remote working solutions up and running before coronavirus. They had already purchased licences for Away from My Desk, EMIS Anywhere, E-Consult and Egton Consult by EMIS. There was an ambition to introduce more technology in their practices but like many GP surgeries, uptake was slow due to the daily pressures of life in a surgery and the fact that 80 per cent of patients were walk-ins.

Response and change during COVID?

As soon as Our Healthier South East London (OHSEL) announced that they had procured a flexible telephony service and remote working tokens, an enthusiastic, but not overly techie member of clinical staff jumped at the chance to try these solutions out. They bought eight new laptops and repurposed two older Apple Macbooks, literally dusting off old keyboards and smart card readers from storage. The team followed the set up steps and sought some support from local IT and CCG colleagues and all were configured to access the health and social care network, clinical systems and support patient call management within a matter of days.

Questions around security and functionality were resolved following practice discussions which centred on the prioritisation of patient care and service continuity. Concerns were addressed by installing antivirus and wiping the hard drives of all laptops when they were brought back into the practice, all of which will be continually reviewed.

The GP surgery informed patients about the move to video consultations through text messages with shortened bit.ly web links to their e-consult site to sign up. Throughout the whole implementation, clinicians, administrators and managers all played their part and contributed, despite the challenges of Coronavirus.

What difference has it made to patients and the practice?                                                                       

Patient feedback reveals how they are pleased at how quickly their calls get answered. The uptake among patients has been transformational and 30 per cent of appointments are now booked online. It is working so well that it may become the norm going forward.

Staff too are very positive about the new ways of working as it allows much more flexibility. The new systems also provide much more clarity about demand and capacity in the practice, allowing resources to be deployed efficiently. The surgery is now completely re-configured to be predominantly online-bookable video-consultations with online-triage being assisted using e-Consult. One doctor is working from home managing a full list, which would have been virtually impossible previously.

For further information, or if you have any questions about remote working during COVID-19, or would like to share your experience of remote working contact: Dean Holliday – souccg.digital@nhs.net.