GPs should start health checks on the phone to boost uptake

GPs should begin health checks with patients over the phone before inviting them in to the surgery to finish the appointment in order to boost uptake, Public Health England (PHE) has suggested.

PHE has released a raft of ‘top tips’ to help GPs increase uptake of the NHS health check, after years of the flagging scheme falling short of targets.

A key recommendation suggests that GPs could begin health checks with high-risk patients over the phone before inviting them in to the surgery for the rest of the appointment.

A scheme doing this in Bristol found it helped boost uptake of the health check, with 78% of patients going on to complete their check in person, PHE said.

It conceded that targeted telephone outreach could be ‘both labour and cost intensive’ to practices, but added this could be an effective way for GPs to target patients who are most at risk of cardiovascular disease.

NHS health check

The time and cost effectiveness of the health check, a ‘mid-life MOT’ offered every five years to healthy patients aged 40-74, has long come under fire. A recent study found it had ‘marginal benefits’.

Uptake among patients offered the test in the last quarter was 53%, despite original plans to increase this to 66% by April 2015 – over a year ago.

PHE also advocated using the national template letter it has designed when inviting patients for the test, after a scheme in Medway in Kent and Southwark in south London found that doing so increased uptake by up to 27%.

A text message service to remind patients to book themselves in for a health check, which was also introduced in Southwark, increased uptake by 12% and cost £3.70 per additional completed health check.

Telephone consultation

PHE advised GPs to stress the benefits of the scheme and pre-emptively address any excuses to ensure that patients do not feel they are bothering the NHS by accepting a check when sending invitation letters.

An example line from the letter states: ‘Your GP says: "I want you to attend the NHS Health Check, as it can help prevent you developing more serious conditions which will take up more NHS resources" increased uptake by 5%.’

Letters could also say ‘your GP has already set aside funding to pay for your appointment’ to help convince patients, it suggested.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It’s up to independent practices how they approach the health checks and they will have various ways of doing that.

‘However, many practices are under huge pressures at the moment – they need to prioritise the core consultations and doing yet more telephone consultations on top of their routine work is a bridge too far for many practitioners. It depends on the capacity within an individual practice and whether they’ve got the resources to support it properly.

‘Many GPs continue to have concerns about the validity of the health check and whether it actually is making any difference compared with routine care, but it’s up to practices to decide whether the funding supports the work and how best they go about approaching individual patients.’

Photo: iStock

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