Supporting your patients’ health needs through the season change

Article posted on 11th October 2017

Health and social care

Supporting your patients’ health needs through the season change

With winter on its way, the demand on GPs is set to increase and practices are in the midst of preparing for the seasonal peak in patient appointments.

A study by NHS England in July 2017 found that around 1.3 million patients will visit a GP surgery every day and that 45% of them are not aware of the online services their practice offers. This means that almost half of the patients booking in to see a GP this winter may be able to seek another form of support instead. By directing these patients to online services, GPs will have more time to spend with patients who have a more urgent need for an in-practice appointment. With appointment needs set to peak with the coming winter, freeing up as much time as possible is key. So, to give your patients the best support through the winter months, here are a few ways to promote your digital and online services.

Make the most of your and your patients’ time

First impressions matter. To make the best first impression on your patients, make sure all your information is clear and obvious, whether you use digital displays, word of mouth or leaflet displays. If your receptionists are the first port of call for patients, make sure they know about your digital services and can explain and guide patients towards them.

Providing Practice Wi-Fi for your patients to use during their wait is a great way to advertise your online services. Through the use of login messages and digital banners you can ensure that next time, your patients will know about the online services and be able to self-manage their health more effectively. Placing this information on your Wi-Fi login pages also helps reinforce the messages your patients will see in and around the practice.

Whilst it’s a great idea to keep patient waiting times to a minimum, it’s also important to make sure that any time the patient spends waiting can be put to good use. Approximately 55% of patients wait 5-15 minutes and 27% wait more than 15 minutes to see a GP. This creates the perfect opportunity to make your patients aware of the online services you provide.

If you have leaflets advertising online and digital services, make sure these are in a central location. This way wherever your patients sit to wait, they can see what you have to offer. You can also provide a central point of information through the use of digital display screens, which can be seen from any location in your waiting area. Whilst leaflets are great, and can be distributed and taken out of the practice setting, centralising key messages using digital signage can be hugely beneficial. Having certain messages repeated through digital signage can really help enforce health awareness messages whilst also promoting both NHS and your personalised services too. This means you’re increasing the awareness of vital health information and services to all your patients at once with minimal effort from clinicians and practice staff. With digital screens, you have an added bonus of being able to make sure the correct message is displayed at the right time by using appointment demographics and local data to time your messages.

Over 75% of patients wait more than 5 minutes to see a GP. 

NHS England, July 2017

Make use of the local community

For the patients you treat, the community they live in is key. Working with local community initiatives provides more opportunities to educate patients on their wellbeing. This also provides another outlet for informing patients of the digital and online services on offer, before winter takes hold.

If you have leaflets advertising your online services, you can use other community initiatives to direct these leaflets to individuals that they may be relevant to. For example, you can direct specific leaflets about community flu clinics times to those you know are at risk. These can help patients be more aware of their health and self-manage their treatments should they need to.

Empowering patients through online services

With smartphones becoming ever more popular it’s increasingly important that your online services work on mobile devices. The Deloitte Global Mobile Customer Survey 2016 UK found that almost half of the UK population had a smartphone by mid-2016. GP Web is a great service for helping create and manage your online content and can save your staff tremendous amounts of time. By having tips, advice and alternative appointment options available online patients can access the answers they need online, rather than taking up time on the phone with receptionists or taking up unnecessary appointment slots.

Not only can online services help patients get the information they need to self-manage their health, it can also enable them to book their own appointments online or arrange alternative ways of speaking to a GP. Because of the busy lives many people lead, going into a practice for a face to face appointment may not be the most appropriate appointment style for everyone. Video consultations and online triage services are a great way to suit the varying lifestyles of patients and can also reduce the risk of spreading infection in the waiting room. With the changing and unpredictable weather, offering alternative appointments can also help reduce the number of DNAs. If patients know they can have a video consultation, they won’t be put off attending their appointment because of poor weather. It also means that should their condition worsen, they can still attend their appointment without having to leave their home.

Awareness of availability

The best way to make the most out of your online services and see the best results from them is to make sure your patients know and understand what is available. Make sure you spread your message through a variety of channels, such as word of mouth from your receptionists, leaflets distributed throughout the community and the practice and digital displays.

Once your patients are aware of the online services that are available to and feel encouraged to use them, the winter peaks will become increasingly more manageable. By enabling patients to improve the level of self-management with regards to their health, the pressure placed on practices will be reduced enormously. Not only will your practice run more efficiently and effectively, but you’ll also be able to offer more support to local hospitals and work together to keep the local community happy.

 

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