In this changing world, saving money is clearly on GPs' minds, and research indicates that successfully educating people about self
care might save the NHS £2 billion a year.
Simply telling patients that they need to self care more is not enough: GPs need to provide them with appropriate tools. This why the practice team and I have spent the past five years developing our practice website, www.htmc.co.uk
I believe that making the internet a bigger part of practices' patient care plans will create proactive and focused patients. For example, if I direct a patient to an online resource (like our practice website) during a consultation, they can look up the website at home. Then they can be directed to other online sources of information that encourage them to find out more about their condition - and to do something about it.
Benefit to the community
Our website also encourages people to look into other health areas, not just what is wrong with them now. Doing this helps them build up their own general health knowledge for the future and is therefore to the benefit of the community as a whole.
Creating useful and supportive online resources lets our patients access the information they need at a time that is convenient for them. This is a great way of putting the patient at the centre of their own care.
Research carried out by YouGov in 2010 showed that 31 per cent of people who visited their GP surgery in the previous 12 months did so for advice on a minor ailment. This seems an unreasonable burden on practices and the NHS.
Looking at HTMC's registered population, around 75 per cent have internet access although the majority of our patients are in the lowest socio-economic groups.
The resources on our website directly address the issues most relevant to our patients. For example, we find that many patients come all the way to the surgery for their free prescriptions, even if they just want paracetamol.
These patients think they are saving money but they fail to take into account how much it costs them to travel to us, whether it is in petrol, taxi fares or taking time off work.
We keep the website updated with current prices of common, OTC medicines as well as the current price of a prescription.
Crucially, if our website means that patients do not need to spend time and money coming to the surgery, more slots are freed up for people with long-term or more complicated conditions.
|ENHANCE YOUR PRACTICE WEBSITE|
Online medical records
We have also spent a lot of time promoting online access for our patients to their own medical records. We see this a crucial resource for patients when the surgery is closed as it helps them to understand and so participate in their healthcare.
HTMC actively asks every patient: 'Would you like access to your records?' Recently the practice nurses have added this question to their QOF template.
More than 1,100 patients (10 per cent of our list) access their records online. This costs us very little and I believe we undoubtedly reap benefits in terms of patient empowerment and self care.
Self care is a two-way street: if you expect patients to get a lot out of it, you have to put some effort into promoting it.
We have invested a considerable amount of time in our website, often with patients' assistance. We developed it in conjunction with IT company Griftech and I estimate that staff and patients have invested more than 100 in building the initial content, which also signposts to dozens of local, regional and national resources.
Our initial outlay was around £3,000 and maintaining the site costs around £1,000 annually. With more than 200 web pages now available, the content is becoming increasingly useful - or so patients, clinicians and staff tell me.
We closely monitor traffic on our website and this is currently running at around 180,000 page views a year and growing.
As practices move into consortia, GPs need ways to keep communication channels with patients open. In the future it will be vital to provide joined-up care. Part of this will be to give patients easy access to the different support and health services available.
I think practice websites with lots of patient education and self care information will be the perfect platforms to publicise these services, to help people to identify the right one for them and then to access it.
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- Dr Hannan is a GP in Cheshire, www.htmc.co.uk