Accessing GP services during a pandemic – how apps will help the NHS deliver patient care
Covid-19 has made the need for changes in how we access GP services essential in order to maintain suitable access for patients to vital services. There are a number of apps on the market and the process of deciding which one to use and how to link with your surgery can be daunting. We have provided a summary of the different options here in the UK to help you decide.
How to pick the right app for you
Access to your GP is something you want to be simple: if you’re feeling unwell or worried about something the last thing you want is to be waiting on hold to speak to a receptionist or queuing up outside the practice, particularly in the cold and rain.
But when you have to suddenly change how you have accessed services like your regular medication or making an appointment to see the doctor it can be daunting.
The pandemic has made these changes happen rapidly but because there is no unified approach to how your GP has adapted to these latest circumstances it can be confusing.
We’ve had smartphones for years, and you probably use it for online shopping, messaging and checking your emails. But what about your healthcare?
There are a number of options available which can give you access to online services such as booking appointments, requesting repeat prescriptions and viewing your medical records – but which one should you choose?
Not all apps are created equal – and not all GP surgeries offer the same level of integration as others. That’s why we’re setting out a handy guide to help you make a decision on what works best for you.
Lots of pharmacies have set up their own apps, such as Pharmacy2U, Boots (sadly you cannot collect advantage card points on prescription drugs) and Echo – which is in conjunction with Lloyds pharmacies. If all you want to do is click a button each month to make sure you have enough medication handy, then these might be the sort of thing you can download.
But if you are going to switch to the latest ways of accessing primary care services, why just use something which only gives you a limited number of features? There are apps out there which allow you not only to keep on top of any medication requirements but also mean you can book an appointment with a GP or a nurse at the touch of a button. For patients whose surgeries use SystmOne there is Doctorlink – although the appointment request requires a symptom checking questionnaire which only gives a certain number of options for answers and can mean you end up calling your practice reception anyway (as the author has had to do on a number of occasions). But others such as MyGP and Patient Access give you the option of booking with your doctor or nurse from within the app.
The same is possible with Medloop, which allows you to choose between an appointment with a GP or nurse, depending on your medical needs, and this is done from the convenience of your phone. It has also been approved by NHS Digital, which means it has demonstrated compliance with NHS standards for things such as data security. We know that one of the reasons people feel worried about moving to digital within healthcare is their concern over data security, but Medloop has ISO 27001 certification (which is good) and is GDPR compliant – meaning you can be confident your medical records are safe and secure. It also means your GP can use their version of our software and order it from the NHS catalogue.
The GP app is different from the patient app because the government requires your surgery to undertake medical reviews of all their patients, such as making sure enough cancer screenings and immunisations have taken place. If you are a patient with a long term condition, your GP will be able to reach out to you via text message to make sure you (and they) are up to date with your health and take steps if things need changing, such as your medication. With 27 million fewer appointments in just six months this year, we think this is a pretty useful way of ensuring your health is monitored and it allows you to take that direct involvement in your own care.
There are other apps on the market which offer features such as wellness monitoring and even link up with your fitbit. Some let you track your weight and your blood pressure and others point to health services such as assistance with drug and alcohol problems or GUM clinics. Medloop does not include these features yet but we are guided by what our users want from the app. That’s why we like to speak to people who use our app and find out what improvements we can make. If you have any suggestions or ideas we’d love to hear them! What features are your favourite and would you like to integrate your fitbit or other wearable with the app – or do you prefer an app which allows you to link up with your GP practice without lots of other features? Let us know!