Improving patient access via an app

Dr Anant Sharma reviews EMIS's Patient Access app, highlighting the pros and cons of the service.

The Patient Access appointment screen can be used to book a slot 24/7 (Image: EMIS)
The Patient Access appointment screen can be used to book a slot 24/7 (Image: EMIS)

According to a January 2013 study, there are now more mobile phone subscribers (83m) in the UK than there are people (around 62m).

That means a lot of us must be juggling more than one mobile device. Six out of every 10 people use smartphones and by 2016, the prediction is that four in every five will be smartphone users.

Access app

At my practice in Wolverhampton, we are helping to make life easier for our ‘smartphone-appy’ patients - and for ourselves - by actively signing up as many as possible to Patient Access.

This is an online service from EMIS that allows patients to book and cancel appointments, order repeat prescriptions and send secure messages to the practice.

Once patients are registered for Patient Access, they can download a free app that enables them to do all those things from their smartphone: more than 700 out of the 3,200 patients on my list now have a password to use Patient Access and the app.

I hope the app becomes more widely used in my practice and beyond, as it could help GPs to provide a more efficient service to their patients.

Benefits for patients

Patients can:

  • Choose which GP they want to see, and when they want to see them: we make 100% of our GP appointments available each day for online booking - practice nurse appointments are not yet available to book online.
  • Avoid the frustration of hanging on when phoning while waiting to get through to reception.
  • Save on trips to the surgery to request and pick up repeat prescriptions: requests can be made even when the practice is closed.
  • Securely ‘message’ the practice with non-urgent queries and requests, so avoiding phone calls or having to make a GP appointment.
  • Interact with the practice wherever they are, 24/7 hours, via their smartphone.

Age is no barrier. Our oldest Patient Access user is 91.

Benefits for the practice

We can:

  • Cut down on incoming calls.
  • Avoid long queues at reception, freeing staff for more complex or urgent tasks.
  • Reduce ‘did not attends’ (DNAs).
  • Encourage medication compliance, by making it easy for patients to request repeat prescriptions.

We are still gathering the evidence, but I believe that putting patients in charge of booking (and cancelling) their own appointments means they are more likely to turn up.

Main features of the app

  • The app is available free of charge to patients registered for Patient Access.
  • It allows patients to book and cancel appointments with a named GP, order repeat prescriptions and securely 'message' the practice.
  • To register for Patient Access the patient can either visit the surgery, where they will be given a personal identification (PIN) document with instructions, or they can visit www.patient.co.uk, click the register button and follow the online process.
  • If they register online, patients can only use the app to book appointments until they visit the surgery in person for security validation.
  • The app is available as an iPhone app and an Android app and there are plans for a BlackBerry version.

Good but not perfect

Despite an overall ‘thumb’s up’ for the app, I do have a few niggles. The practice has to give patients a permanent password. This is take a lot of time – ideally we would prefer to not do this at all.

We agree that the sign up process must be robust, but the five-question security process is lengthy and deters some patients from downloading the app.

Also,there is no online demo video to explain how to sign up and use the app. A ‘YouTube-style’ video clip showing how easy it is would be helpful.

So what do our patients think of the app? Below is one review.

App user's experience

‘I have been using Patient Access since Dr Sharma introduced it two years ago,' says practice patient Sarah Worrall.

'I switched to the app on my Samsung mobile eight months ago, for convenience while out and about. It took about 60 seconds to download the app and it’s very easy to use.

'I use my smartphone for everything, from emails to online banking, and my GP is a lot easier to access than my bank.

'The app means I can book same-day appointments quickly. I used to have to ring at 8.30am and I could still be ringing after 9am, by which time there would be no morning slots left.

'Now I can pick timeslots to suit me and can choose which doctor to see. With on-going problems, seeing the same doctor each time saves explaining things all over again.

'My partner and my 80 year-old granddad use the app. Granddad has long- term health problems and visits his GP regularly. He used to spend ages on the phone trying to get through for appointments. He also uses the app to order repeat prescriptions.

'I really appreciate being able to book appointments in slots that fit around the school day for my children.'

  • Dr Sharma is a GP at Bilston Health Centre, Wolverhampton

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