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NHS talks over digital triage system

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A developer of an online triage system for GPs that has seen demand soar fivefold during Covid-19, has launched an urgent care triage platform for A&Es and is in talks with hospitals.

In the last nine months symptom assessment provider Doctorlink, which provides 24/7 access to healthcare for 12.5 million NHS patients across 1,500 GP practices, has seen registration for its GP services increase by more than 400%

Doctorlink’s Online Triage enables health providers to manage demand by directing patients to the most appropriate care pathway, including self-help, pharmacy and urgent care.

Its symptom assessment assesses the patients’ symptoms online by asking a series of medical questions based on an algorithm built by doctors and tech innovators.

Developed by doctors, Doctorlink’s algorithms cover 95% of conditions. The Health Service Finder component then recommends the best healthcare pathway solution based on the symptom assessment results. The platform also allows the patient to order a prescription and collect it from a nominated pharmacy.

Doctorlink claims its platform brings savings of 15,000 annual clinical hours per general practice each year, while diverting up to 22% of cases to more appropriate forms of care.

It also says that practices using the service are achieving uptake by up to a third of patients and seeing a drop in telephone triage of up to 30%. Results also evidence a 35% reduction in the need for same-day appointments.

“Covid has really accelerated the switch to online by necessity,’’ said Rupert Spiegelberg, chief executive of Doctorlink.

“People have seen and understood it and used it and seen the benefits and advantages of being able to check symptoms, book an appointment and order repeat prescriptions and do all of that online any time of night or day, as opposed to having to wake up early in the morning and get on the phone for 20 minutes to get through to reception.’’

Even before Covid-19, from the last quarter of 2019 to the end of the first quarter of 2020, the business saw a 196% growth in repeat prescriptions requested on the app, a 32% increase in GP practices using the service, and more than a 50% growth in new registrations.

On the back of the success of Online Triage, Doctorkink has launched its Urgent Care Triage platform for A&E. The new service will reduce long waiting times by helping patients more quickly access the correct form of clinical care for their symptoms.

“We are talking to about 20 hospital trusts about the technology and we’re hopeful that we will be looking at pilots for this tool in the coming months,’’ said Spiegelberg.

Doctorlink points to research showing that four million A&E appointments each year are not clinically urgent, where symptoms and medical history indicate patients should receive care from a GP, pharmacist or other community service.

This represents a sixth of annual A&E visits. A&E departments have not met their target of treating and discharging, admitting or transferring 95% of patients within four hours since July 2015.

To use the platform, patients answer questions about their condition on a touchscreen, which will help hospital staff to prioritise visitors. Patients whose symptoms do not indicate a need for A&E consultation will be offered other forms of care tailored to their symptoms and medical history, including face-to-face GP appointments, pharmacy consultations or safe self-care. This will help A&E departments to work towards their target.

Spiegelberg added: “It is a great example of how technology can help and assist healthcare professionals for better outcomes. This is exactly what NHS Emergency Departments need, especially in the run up to winter and with the potential for another wave of Covid-19 demand.

“By directing patients to the correct form of care, practices save valuable time and money and patients get the care they need in a fraction of the time. Our platform will help emergency departments to manage demand, reduce costs and improve performance over this challenging period.”

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