Online GP consultations leap in first week

Mary's picture
Authored by Mary
Posted: Saturday, November 23, 2019 - 14:00

In their first week of full operation, around 1,000 online GP consultations were made to Beacon Medical Group, with 42% of all patient contacts in that first week made via online GP consultations.

Some 62.7% of patients who used an online GP consultation did not need an appointment, freeing up appointments for those who did. Anyone who used the online GP consultation service and who required an appointment were in the most part seen within 24 hours.

The service has so far resulted in waiting times for telephone calls to Beacon surgeries being reduced by 16%. Wasted GP time has been reduced by 64%, and only 0.8% of patients did not attend an appointment (compared with the national average of 5%).

Dr Matthew Funnell, a GP at Ivybridge Medical Practice (part of Beacon Medical Group), commented: “The first full week of online GP consultations has outstripped our expectations. Not only has it resulted in satisfied patients who have received timely and appropriate treatment and advice, it has also contributed hugely to the efficient running of our surgeries.”

Online consultations are available from the Beacon website – – and can be accessed via any device.

One patient who has used the online GP consultation service is Neill Mitchell, 48, a Microelectronics Product Development Engineer from Plympton.

Neill used the service to check on a medication dosage. He said: “I work long hours and sometimes it is just not possible to wait for a phone call to be answered or to visit the surgery – especially on work days. This is a great service which is easy to use and convenient, because you can access it from anywhere at any time.”

He added: “I was very satisfied with how it worked. The online consultation led to a prompt answer to my question and I was offered a choice of ways to be contacted, email, text or a call. If anyone was concerned about using an online consultation, I would tell them not to be – the form guides you through the process and it’s made as easy as possible, and you can use it for letters and fit notes too.”

The online consultation system adopted by Beacon Medical Group has been developed by NHS GPs and is in use in around 1,000 GP practices across the country. It is accredited by the Care Quality Commission.

Provision has been made for patients who do not have access to the Internet, or do not have a family member, carer or friend who can help them with an online consultation. Each Beacon Medical Group surgery has tablets in their waiting rooms for patients to use to complete an online consultation, and there is the option to call the surgery where a Care Navigator will take the patient through the process. Beacon is also working with local health access charity Well Connected to ensure sectors of the community with particular needs can also benefit from online consultations.

Patients will still be able to contact their surgery by telephone if they prefer, and with more people using online consultations it means they will not have to wait as long to get through. Telephone access is also available to those with a long term condition, who need a blood test approved by a GP, and for nurse and other non-GP appointments.

The 12 things you need to know about online GP consultations:

What is an online consultation?

It is like emailing your GP, but you use a ‘smart’ form via our website. The form will ask you questions about your health, and the answers help our clinicians to advise the best treatment options for you. It saves you waiting on the telephone or making a trip to the surgery if you are feeling unwell, because it can be completed from the comfort of your own home. The system has been developed by GPs.

Why is Beacon introducing online consultations?

The majority of people have Internet access and use websites, email and other online forms of communication everyday – this is a safe, secure and effective way for you to use the Internet to interact with your GP. It means shorter waiting times for an appointment (often available on the day you need one), less time waiting on the telephone (as more people use online consultations) and better use of the finite resources of our GPs and clinical teams (an issue facing every GP practice in the country).

How can I access an online consultation?

You can do so via our website, and the online consultation has been designed to work from any computer or mobile device.

How long does an online consultation take?

This depends on the information you provide, because the system will ask a range of questions designed to pinpoint the condition you are describing. The important thing is to keep going until the end – we won’t receive your online consultation form until it is fully completed and submitted, so please be patient with it. The more information we have from your online consultation, the better able we will be to provide appropriate and timely treatment.

What happens if my need is serious?

If your answers to the online consultation cause concern the process will stop and you will be advised to take further action, such as calling 999, visiting your A&E department, or calling 111.

What happens to my online consultation?

It comes to us where it is reviewed by our clinical team and your GP. You will receive a response from us within 24 hours, and a GP appointment on the day if one is required. Responses to save you a trip to the surgery might suggest options such visiting trusted webpages for information, or going to your pharmacist for advice. Your GP may also ring, text or email you. If they can’t contact you at the first go they will suggest a time when they will contact you again.

Your online consultation forms part of your medical record, and with your permission it may be used by other health professionals – such as when you are referred to a hospital or clinic for further treatment.

What response can I expect?

We will respond to you within 24 hours, and the advice we give will depend on the severity of your condition and your medical history. You will be given an appointment with your GP if you need one, but if you have something like a cough, cold or minor infection we will offer an appointment with our highly-trained clinical team made up from Nurse Practitioners, Paramedics and Minor Illness Nurses – they are all trained to deal with these types of condition.

Does my GP get to see my online consultation?

The beauty of this system is that if a doctor needs to be involved it is always your own GP who reviews your online consultation, and it will be your GP who responds to you. This means that we can provide a level of continuity of care which we know our patients want.

If your GP is not in then your online consultation will be reviewed by another of our GPs. If they decide you need to be seen before your usual GP returns to the surgery, then we will arrange an appointment with the GP who has reviewed your online consultation. If they think your condition can wait and that you need to see your own GP, then we will arrange an appointment with your GP on their return.

Is it secure?

Yes, the online consultation is entirely confidential and the system is secure. Your information is only seen by our clinical team and your GP, and other health professionals with your permission.

What happens if I don’t have Internet access?

You can either ring us where one of our Care Navigators will go through the online consultation with you over the phone, or you can visit the surgery where we have tablets programmed to take you through the process. Alternatively, a family member, carer or friend with Internet access can complete an online consultation with you on your behalf.

Does this mean I can no longer ring the surgery?

Telephone contact with us remains available, and with more people using online consultations it means that you will not have to wait as long to get through. Telephone access is also available to those with a long term condition, who need a blood test approved by a GP, and for nurse and other non-GP appointments.

Can I be confident that online consultations will work for me?

Around 1,000 GP practices around the country have adopted online consultations so far, so you can be assured that the technology is tried and tested. But don’t take our word for it – here are some of the responses to online consultations we have already received here at Beacon:

I’ve used it several times. On each occasion I’ve had a prompt response

It worked superbly

This has literally been a lifesaver for me. It is the best form of contact with the practice. I would highly recommend and have done so! I can’t ring the practice as my anxiety is extreme.

I had reception do it over the phone for me as have no computer at the moment so no problem

Fantastic experience with completing the online form, twice in the last 2 weeks. Been seen the same day on both occasions

Sent it off at 7:15 last night, included photos so they could see what was wrong, had a text at 10:20 this morning saying it was being processed, 10:25 the Dr rang me, and I had an appointment for 11am. I can’t believe how easy the process was.