GPs talking to patients via text message should 'become norm', says top GP

Allowing patients and hospital consultants to contact GPs directly by Skype or text can improve care and outcomes and should become standard practice, according to a leading London GP.

Speaking at the 2016 Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester, Tower Hamlets CCG chair Dr Sam Everington said using technology to communicate with patients – for example via Skype and text – ‘should become the norm’ in the NHS.

Providing hospital consultants and select patients with his mobile phone number had made positive improvements in the Tower Hamlets vanguard scheme he leads, Dr Everington said.

‘Be compassionate, be a friend, have fun and assume it’s possible – that, to me, sums up what vanguards are about,' he told delegates.

‘In the Tower Hamlets vanguard, you can now within two days get a response and result from a kidney specialist. How is this done? We email the consultant, they can look into our notes as the GP and see all the results of the patient and their problems with their kidney.

GP referral

‘They can look at the hospital results, then they can ring me (because I've put my mobile phone number on all of my referrals) and have a chat because it’s complicated or they can just email me back within two days.

‘Sorted and with the patient within two days – how different is that to what most patients experience in the NHS? That encompasses I think what the vanguard movement is all about.’

The vanguard has also allowed many more patients with terminal illness to die at home, and reduced the number dying in hospital to just 14% through better use of technology, he said.

Allowing terminally ill patients to directly Skype a team of skilled nurses when they need help rather than being told when to come into the surgery for an appointment or wait for a visiting doctor allows patients to reclaim ‘control of their own life’, he said.

Dr Everington has previously said that Skype should be ‘as common as stethoscopes’ in general practice.

Allowing patients to text GPs directly would also reap benefits, he said. ‘This is a personal example from me as a GP, which defines how we do things in Tower Hamlets. Last week on the west coast of Scotland, where I was, I get a text from a patient with a serious condition, and she wanted access to some of her results.

GP access

‘So I ring the GP line, I get put through to the consultant on their mobile phone, we have a discussion, and we get the results emailed to the patient. And I ring the patient back and we discuss the results.

‘That's something we do every day in our normal life, it’s something that should become the norm in the NHS.’

He clarified that he does not give out his number to every patient, ‘only those who are terminally or very, very ill’ that he knows well.

‘I don’t want to create panic across all the GPs across the country – but actually it’s so much easier when you do that for your patient and for you as a GP, because they don’t have to go through endless receptionists or barriers to get something sorted.

‘It’s just another way of doing things. Why doesn’t every hospital in the country have a system where there's a special GP line where you can get straight through to a consultant on a mobile phone? This is not complicated stuff.

‘And actually, communication is what this is all about. We need this to happen in the NHS, it’s about a change in mind set.

‘Ironically, if I give that number to my patient, it’s far less work for me. Actually, I worry about the patients not contacting me. The answer is to let go and you will find not only will the patient’s life be much better, but so will yours.’

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