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Online consultations - general information

Up to 2. New consultation types
December 22. 2016
Robert Varnam

Recent years have seen rapid development of a number of online consultation systems for patients to connect with their general practice. Using a mobile app or online portal, patients can tell the GP about their enquiry or problem, and receive a reply, prescription, call back or other kind of appointment.

In early adopter practices, these systems are proving to be popular with patients of all ages. They free up time for GPs, allowing them to spend more time managing complex needs. Some issues are resolved by the patient themselves, or by another member of the practice team. Others are managed by the GP entirely remotely, with about a third of online consultations being followed up with a face to face consultation. As well as improving the service for patients, evidence to date indicates that online consultation systems can free up to 10 per cent of GPs' time.


Quick facts:

The idea

  • Patients make the practice website their first point of contact. 
  • Options: 
    • find out more about symptoms, a particular condition or treatment
    • request a call back from 111 nurse 
    • send details of problem / query to GP
  • The practice usually reserves appointment “slots” for GPs to deal with online consultations (typically three online consultations can be undertaken in one 10 minute appointment slot)
  • The GP can reply to the patient, issue a prescription, order tests or arrange to speak further with the patient, on the phone or in person

The impact:

  • Online consultations appear popular with patients of all ages.
  • To date there has been no reported evidence of increased demand.
  • Typical results:
    • 90% users don’t contact practice:
      • 60% symptom checker / self help
      • 20% visit pharmacy
      • 10% request 111 nurse call back 
    • 10% users have ‘online consultation’
      • 40% completed by GP remotely - 2.9mins ave
      • 20% GP phoned patient - 5.5mins ave
      • 40% face to face appointment – 10mins ave

Implementation tips

  • Careful & persistent marketing is required. Once patients have used the system once, the majority are prepared to use it again and to recommend it to others. The challenge is letting patients know about the option, helping them appreciate the benefits and making it as easy as possible to access. It is important to provide plenty of information, make the entry point highly visible on the practice's website and signpost from telephone messages.
  • Personal recommendations from staff are very influential, so ensure everyone is able to describe the benefits for patients.
  • Don’t expect it to suit every patient. Practices who make a real effort to help patients use the system find that up to 20% of consultations move online. However, it will not suit every patient and some will be slower than others to try it and get used to it.
  • Design GPs’ sessions to provide a prompt response. Audit to spot any problems. Training and support is very helpful for some GPs
  • Consider ways to use online consultations for follow-up as well as new problems.


Download quick facts sheet

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