How can a PCN use total triage to help it manage demand? Martin Eades, the managing partner of York’s Priory Medical Group, reveals how the network has used total triage as a catalyst for change. Now, with refreshed processes and AI triage and patient flow technology in place, it is providing 8,000 more patient contacts than the year previously, using the same level of clinical resources.
Knowing true patient demand is key to the evolution of general practice. Total triage technology has revealed the true demand for healthcare.
Despite what some might say, the right software and thoughtful process change can help general practice meet the new demand that has been unleashed.
As my colleague Dr Emma Broughton, Executive Partner at PMG, noted: “Using total triage has transformed the job of clinicians for the better. A doctor now knows the reasons patients need care, which ensures the right clinician can prioritise care based on clinical need.”
Total triage has led some GPs to call for an urgent rethink on the use of online consultation. For Priory Medical Group, it is not without its challenges. However, it has helped us provide a more nuanced service that can better meet the needs of our local populations.
At Priory we have always looked to provide patients with suitable ways of accessing healthcare. We introduced phone lines. This showed us how many patients were waiting, and for how long. They only went so far in helping us manage demand.
We knew that a different approach was needed to help us meet demand. We came to see how AI triage and patient flow management technology could help us redirect patients to the right point of care, based on consistent information provided by the patient.
Creating our system was not a “tick box” exercise. It meant we had to redesign our access model and think carefully about how we resourced patient queries.
Once it was in place, it gave us great flexibility in how we managed Urgent and Routine Care. It has meant that many patient queries can be dealt with directly by practice staff, without the need for GP involvement.
In just over two months since implementation, we have provided almost 28,500 episodes of care, over 4,000 nursing contacts, 6,300 medication requests and handled almost 9,000 requests at our front of house reception teams. In direct comparison, we have provided over 8,000 more patient contacts than the year prior, using the same level of clinical resources.
Ease of use and engagement have been essential to patient adoption, as has involving patients in the development of the system. We have also spent a long time training and coaching our teams to assist patients with access.
As a result, the majority of people use online access routes. In just over two months, our prioryCARE system, powered by Klinik, has registered and completed over 43,000 contacts across our 9 surgery sites, with online use accounting for over 70% of all contacts.
Patients praise the system for being quick and easy to use, and a much better way to contact the practice than through the phone.
Some patients, of course, prefer calling. We capture the same information from telephone enquiries and feed them into our prioryCARE system. This means we have comprehensive information on which to base clinical and non-clinical decisions, however people access healthcare.
Patient and staff satisfaction remains high, as evidenced by our recent staff survey and an 87% rating of good or excellent.
Some patients are using technology at the earliest onset of minor symptoms. We sympathise with our colleagues on this. Yet we accept that patients have a right to contact their GP when worried about their health.
Our holistic approach to meeting patient demand has helped. We have found that many issues can be easily dealt with by text. This also helps inclusivity; deaf patients or those with speech difficulties find this service invaluable.
We see it as our role to educate patients and signpost them to the most appropriate resources at the appropriate time, and the technology can support this.
As Dr Emma Broughton said: “I am able to book those who need clinical examination as well as supporting and providing advice digitally, by phone, by video when a well-structured digital tool gathers all the clinical information needed.
“Patients have been astounded at the speed of response for their urgent conditions. Our system enables us to be able to respond within 30 minutes of a submission for minor ailments, using the information gathered by our digital platform."
We cannot say we get things right 100% of the time. We are learning all the time. However, we know that we cannot hide from the demand we face. We are making the unknown known, and trying to respond in the best way possible for our patients. It is what general practice has done well since its inception.
Feel free to contact Priory Medical Group about our experiences with online triage technology.
Priory Medical Group PCN provides a broad range of NHS and private clinical services covering the whole of the City of York and the surrounding area. Nine locations around the city serve more than 58,000 patients. Find out more about us: https://www.priorymedical.com/about_us.html