Putting the patient at the heart of what you do certainly isn’t anything new for General Practice. But with the ever-changing shape of delivering care and the pressures that come with that, it can be challenging to ensure patients remain front and centre.

A patient’s experience with a practice begins long before they enter the consultation room. By focusing on this entire journey, you can see things from the patient’s perspective. Below we’ve looked at some of the key areas to consider that can help you make the most of a patient’s time in the practice.

Create a comfortable environment

This may sound obvious, but patients are rarely at their best when they visit your practice. Creating an environment they are able to feel comfortable and relaxed in can go a long way in putting them at ease ahead of any consultation. To help with this, there are a number of aesthetic and ergonomic touches that can help, like comfortable seating, good lighting, and so on.

After these considerations, you need to look at other ways patients engage with the practice right from the second they walk in the door. One area of issue that practices up and down the country face in relation to this are queues at the reception desk.

There are various ways to address this, such as altering the layout of the reception area or implementing a number call system, although these are perhaps a little old fashioned. A more modern way of dealing with this problem is with Automated Arrivals units in the practice. These fully integrate with your clinical system and remove the need for patients to always go to reception. They also ensure GPs are aware of who has arrived for their appointment.

Effective signposting

This involves more than just making sure patients can find the right consultation room, although this is still important. Signposting can take on many forms, from keeping patients aware of upcoming classes or specialist services to making sure they are waiting in the correct place particularly for larger practices. One obvious piece of advice is keep any signage, digital or otherwise, clear and to the point. Also, make sure you consider the multiple demographics of your patients and any potential language or cultural barriers that may exist.

Get patients online

People are increasingly connected in all aspects of their life, so why should this be any different in the GP practice? For those patients that aren’t tech-savvy, use the waiting time as an opportunity to show them the benefits that technology can bring them. This can involve explaining how they book appointments or order repeat prescriptions online, or just highlighting useful websites that may help support them outside of the practice.

Offering digital access not only benefits patients, but the practice too. You can capture vital information about your patients and ask them to update their records, more of that later.

Inform and educate

The need to increase awareness of self-care is widely recognised across the NHS. A perfect opportunity to achieve this is when the patient is in the practice. The key here is to ensure that information is relevant to your patients as delivering targeted messages can dramatically increase engagement and help reinforce areas that are important to your practice.

Again, this comes down to considering your different patient groups. For example, you could promote healthy eating and lifestyle messages during diabetes clinics or advertise smoking cessation classes during asthma clinics. These targeted messages can be easily achieved with the right technology.

Maximise consultation time

A ten minute consultation offers limited opportunity to diagnose a patient, so use the waiting time to get patients to provide as much information as possible before they are assessed. This information can be captured in a number of ways. Some practices provide tablets to patients, allowing them to update basic but essential information and giving clinicians back precious minutes which they can spend on providing care.

Looking at all the areas above and truly understanding how your patients interact with your practice not only helps you to provide better levels of care, but will also provide real business benefit to your practice. With the opportunity to increase availability of support staff or reduce appointment levels due to better-informed patients, you can really start to understand your patients’ journey and that’s potentially the most important element of running a GP practice.