Ease of booking virtual GP appointments risks more cancellations and wasted NHS time, warns GP

The rise in virtual doctor’s appointments during the Covid-19 pandemic risks wasting NHS time as patients are more likely not to turn up, an Aberdeen GP has warned.

Dr Amir Iqbal, a GP at Denburn Medical Practice in NHS Grampian said the increased ease of booking appointments, especially those well in advance, has led to more chance of patient no-shows.

More effective screening can produce better outcomes for the majority of patients, and leave GPs with more time to concentrate on the more vulnerable minority who need more traditional access, said Dr Iqbal, whose practice began using the eConsult online triaging service in May last year.

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NHS Grampian has now rolled this out across its GP practices. Patients can access eConsult at any time and record their symptoms or make a request to a GP by filling out a questionnaire.

A Scottish GP has made a warning about a rise in appointment cancellations

“If everyone who could phone, or use eConsult, did so, that would open up a massive amount of capacity for vulnerable people who only have one route of access,” said Dr Iqbal.

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“EConsult is an additional triage, and a large part of it is trying to direct patients towards self-help methods if that’s appropriate, and if it’s not then the contact goes to a clinician, who is able to review things.

“If you don’t have a system where you can screen people, but they can book quite far ahead, you end up with a funny situation where you’ve got very few appointments on the day, but then people aren’t turning up for their appointments.

Dr Amir Iqbal, of Denburn Medical Practice

“That happens often and it’s very difficult to deal with.”

It comes as eConsult released a survey of GPs in the UK in which half of respondents thought new digital strategies had increased stress levels in their practice.

Three quarters agreed that digital appointments have “opened the floodgates” to increased demands from patients, and the same number said more than a fifth of that demand is not being met by their surgery.

“I know it’s very counter-intuitive for a GP to say this, but I honestly believe that the digital services that have been introduced during Covid have made it far too easy for someone to make an appointment,” said Dr Murray Ellender, a practising GP and chief executive of eConsult.

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