Digital triage tool eConsult is added to NHS app

GP consultation tool eConsult is now available through the NHS app, extending the range of surgeries that can offer online advice to patients.

eConsult – which is free to use for NHS patients – can be used to ask surgeries about health symptoms, conditions or treatment, as well as to request things like sick notes and other GP letters.

Using the tool, patients fill out a questionnaire that is sent to the practice, which can then respond with advice, a prescription or additional follow-up.

It has now been integrated into the NHS app, which was launched by NHS Digital in 2018 as part of a push into digital health and allows people to order repeat prescriptions, manage appointments, check symptoms and view their GP medical records.

eConsult says that where possible, patients completing the questionnaire in the NHS app will have their online consultation passed onto their regular GP surgery, where staff will then undertake the initial triage. The service is currently available in around a third of surgeries in England.

There has been an increase in the use of online consultation tools since the start of the coronavirus crisis, which has led to a massive reduction in doctor’s appointments.

That in turn has raised concerns that patients may be missing out on necessary health care because they are afraid of exposure to COVID-19 or adding to the burden on overstretched NHS resources.

The app offers an alternative to the 24-hour NHS 111 non-emergency helpline, which at the height of the outbreak was struggling to keep up with the volume of information requests.

“As COVID-19 continues to keep us in lockdown, we want to make sure that everyone in England is receiving the best medical care possible,” said eConsult’s chief executive Dr Murray Ellender.

“The eConsult integration with the NHS App is allowing people above the age of 13, whatever their level of capability to have easy access to important medical advice when they need it.

The company says that before the COVID-19 crisis around 70% to 90% of consultations were face to face, but that has been turned on its head, with roughly the same proportion now conducted through digital means.

 “As people are using healthcare apps more frequently than ever before to seek medical advice, this integration among providers is a step in the right direction for efficiency between patients and doctors,” continued Ellender.

Ian Phoenix, NHS Digital director of citizen health technology, said that integrating eConsult into the NHS app will allow more people to use it as a “digital front door” to access health and care services.

NHS England issued a confidential 48-hour tender for provision of online primary care consultations in March in a bid to help the health service cope with the pressure caused by the virus.

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