GPs are calling for a full assessment of the impact of digital technology on their workload as data shows that demands on GPs have escalated rapidly fueled by technology, such as e-consult, that allows simple access to GPs via an online form.

A motion at the UK LMCs (Local Medical Committees) conference last week asked the GP committee of the BMA to ‘conduct a full impact assessment of the effect of the roll-out of uncapped instantly available e-consultations on the availability of more proven consultation models’.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) new report – General practice COVID-19 recovery: the future role of remote consultations & patient ‘triage’ – calls for “research into models of triage and remote consultations to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of existing methods” plus “review and improve digital patient triage platforms and processes, and produce guidance for patients and staff to support effective implementation”. 

The LMC motion and RCGP report follows growing disquiet over the massive increase in workload for GPs following the mandatory introduction of technology that allows remote consultations at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic back in March 2020. What began as the answer to the problems of seeing patients during the pandemic has now resulted in a massive increase in workload for many GPs as the public takes advantage of the ease of access via on-line forms.

It came to a head for a surgery in Derbyshire at the end of April; the Ivy Grove Surgery had seen demand double in previous months despite encouraging patients to use eConsult ‘in a responsible manner’. E-consult is the technology that has been most commonly put in place by surgeries.

In a 16 page open letter to patients the surgery outlined how it had been overwhelmed with online queries and its 16 phone lines had remained as busy as ever. The surgery likened adopting online consulting to “opening up a brand new lane on a full motorway that was already littered with roadworks and having an instant traffic jam as a result”.

Issues included multiple requests from patients in a day and people who seemed unable to tolerate any symptoms of ill-health at all and demanded instant treatment for conditions such as sore-throats, earache or diarrhoea as soon as symptoms appeared rather than taking self-care advice from the many sources on the surgery’s and the NHS’ websites.

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