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Digital-first triage should not become automatic default, says RCGP

Post-COVID systems should not exacerbate inequalities

May 11th 2021

Tagged: political news

By Ailsa Colquhoun

Digital-first triage platforms should not become the automatic default for all practices once social distancing has lifted, the Royal College of GPs has said in a new report.

The future role of remote consultations & patient ‘triage, concludes that ‘total triage’ systems should be co-designed with patients to iron out the challenges associated with current approaches. “Evaluation is needed to establish what ‘good’ looks like for triage systems for both patients and staff. This must ensure that systems do not exacerbate health inequalities,” says the RCGP.

The report notes Government plans to embed a ‘total triage’ model in general practice in England beyond the pandemic through new planning guidance for 21/22. Total triage is a system whereby patients are not able to book consultation appointments with a practice directly but are directed to the most appropriate service or information. Benefits are said to include: convenience, flexibility and improved access to GPs, provided these are supported by effective technologies.

Similar ambitions are noted in other parts of the UK.

The RCGP expects a rebalancing between face-to-face and remote consultations as the country emerges from COVID-19. A letter from NHS England makes clear that practices should respect preferences for face-to-face care unless there are good clinical reasons to the contrary.

By mid-March 2021 in England, telephone and video appointments accounted for 54 per cent of total appointments, while face-to-face appointments made up 46 per cent. This shift has been driven by a 108 per cent rise in face-to-face appointments between April 2020 and March 2021, compared to a 28 per cent rise in remote appointments over the same period.

The Covid-19 response has accelerated the take up of paperless electronic prescribing (see DDA analysis of the electronic prescription service below).

For more information on the rise of online pharmacies, read this article published by the Rural Services Partnership.

EPS (England only)Jan 3, 2020July 3, 2020April 2, 2021Jan 20-Apr 21 change (%)
Total number of nominations set33.14m38.31m42.73m+29
Total no. of active EPS dispensers11,55011,44511,306-2
Total no. of nominations set for top 10 EPS dispensers789,2311.18m1.56m+98
Total no of EPS dispensers with over 1000 nominations set10,43410,71410,757+3