GP 'toolkit' urges more use of web and phone

DOCTORS in Scotland could carry out more consultations on the phone or introduce internet booking systems to improve access to patients, experts believe.

A "toolkit" for GPs suggests practices should look at levels of demand and take action to make it easier for patients to book appointments.

In some cases, this could mean doctors speaking to patients on the phone, taking up a five-minute consultation rather than a ten-minute face-to-face meeting.

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The document warns that phone consultations have downsides, including doctors missing visual cues for an illness which could lead to a greater risk of a wrong diagnosis.

However, the toolkit, published by the Royal College of GPs Scotland, said that used in the right cases, such as giving advice on whether a patient needs to see a doctor or checking up on how treatment is working, phone consultations could help improve access.

The document also suggests looking at allowing patients to make appointments on the internet, as some practices do.

Launching the toolkit in Glasgow yesterday, Dr John Gillies, chairman of the RCGP Scotland, said: "Telephone consultations can be very useful for a variety of aspects of general practice. They can be useful for an initial triage and diagnosis if you use the conversation to assess whether you need to see the patient or not."

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she received letters from patients worried about access to GPs and so was aware it was an issue.

She said many patients would have experienced phone conversations with their doctors and were satisfied with the service.

She cautioned: "What works in an inner city practice might be inappropriate for a rural practice."