According to a review of digital services by NHS England, GPs should actively encourage patients to go online for booking appointments and ordering repeat prescriptions, to reduce pressures on surgeries and hospitals.
Where Doctors once frowned upon patients googling symptoms and becoming frantic by misdiagnoses, the new campaign instead urges people to check only reliable NHS websites for health advice before contacting your GP.
Baroness Lane Fox is a former internet entrepreneur and government adviser, who wants the NHS to push forward with an IT revolution and see every GP practice getting 10% of patients to go digital by 2017.
The ‘3 Before GP’ initiative by the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland focuses on the following steps before visiting a GP:
Joyce Robins of Patient Concern believes that more doctors is what is needed, or more imaginative solutions such as making it easier to speak to one on the phone.
“Asking people to go online assumes everyone uses the internet. But for many older, vulnerable patients, it is simply not the case. And many people do not know what they are looking for, raising chances of a misdiagnosis,” she said.
Carey Lunan, chairwoman of RCGP Scotland, said: “There is a big difference between using reputable health websites such as NHS Inform, and patients using Google or other unauthorised websites for advice.”
She believes that seeking advice for minor conditions can be helpful in receiving helpful tips for at-home treatment, however pointed out that: “It is absolutely not our position to discourage those who need to be seen by their GP from booking an appointment.”
RCPG Scotland’s group chairman Colin Angus said: “Many patients across the country are experiencing lengthy waits for appointments at their local practices and it is important that we do all we can to help ease this pressure and ensure that the most in need of services are able to access care when they require it.”
Although Ministers have promised to hire an extra 5,000 family doctors by 2020, demand continues to rise, with GP’s seeing a million patients daily. Medical leaders claim up to a quarter of appointments are avoidable and could be better dealt with by other services, such as pharmacists.
Practices have been “feeling the pinch” over winter, according to the nations top GP Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, who urges the nation to stop and think before picking up the phone to their surgery, and play their part in reducing delays.