Two GPs who have introduced telephone consulting systems in different parts of the country told delegates at the RCGP annual conference 2013 in Harrogate that it had transformed their practices.
Hertfordshire GP Dr Steven Laitner implemented telephone consulting six years ago. Patients who call are asked to outline their problem and whether they have a preferred doctor. The GP usually calls back within half an hour.
Dr Laitner said that the pattern of outcomes from the phone consultation meant that 60% of patients needed no further care. Of the remaining patients, 30% required a face-to-face appointment with a doctor and 10% needed an appointment to see the nurse.
‘It means that demand is highly predictable. We get 80-90 calls each morning and we now have empty appointments in our practice,’ said Dr Laitner.
Dr Ashley Liston, a GP in Tyne and Wear, told delegates that his practice introduced a rapid response telephone consulting system a year ago.
He said that it had proved popular with patients, practice staff and GPs. ‘It’s convenient and stress-free for patients, we have no DNAs, there’s been a massive reduction in home visiting and the receptionists love it because their lives have been transformed,’ said Dr Liston.
Doctors have improved their communication skills by using telephone consulting, he said. This included picking up on non-visual cues, such as noting the anxiety in a patient’s voice and summarising what the caller had told them.
Some GPs objected to the concept of telephone consulting, he said, arguing that they had ‘not been medically trained to work as a receptionist’.
But Dr Liston said they were missing the point of telephone consultations as well as underestimating its value.
‘We are already the gatekeeper and navigator to other services; this is us doing it to ourselves. We are not losing our identity but adapting to our environment,’ he said.