Online self-help: encouraging patient take-up


Online self-help: encouraging patient take-up

In last month’s newsletter we reported on the demand audit carried out by Hertfordshire-based Lea Valley Health. The exercise threw up some interesting findings, and just one which stuck out was how little patients were using online self-help or advice prior to making an appointment. Of those surveyed, just 2% used the surgery website to ‘self-help’ and a further 19% used other services, such as NHS 111.

It’s clear that the default position for 79% of patients surveyed was to go straight to the doctor. And it seems likely that this is reflected at practices across the country.

So how do you encourage patients to seek help first? Given how stretched practices are, the more you can pre-empt the tendency to go straight to the GP – without, of course, putting patients at risk – the better.

Five practical tips

This month, we will look five measures practices can take to guide patients towards trusted self-help before they make a phone call to the practice or make an appointment.

  1. Be succinct. Home in on just a few issues at any one time – subjects that are relevant to your patients, the things that they are phoning about. Avoid the temptation of putting in an exhaustive list of everything you can think of and creating a long-winded and off-putting A-Z of self-help.
  2. Be topical. Highlight features that are current to the time of year such as hay fever or travel in the summer; colds and flu in the winter. Taking the time to keep a content calendar can pay dividends.
  3. Concentrate on giving advice, write text that addresses your patients’ issues and make your copy clear and simple. People have a very limited attention span when reading online, so text that gets to the point and solves their issue, or gives them direction, will be the most effective.
  4. Structure the copy so it gives clear instructions. Focus on what the patient can do now, when they should seek medical help, and where can they go for advice. The move to mobile – with so many people accessing websites via smart phone or tablet – has only strengthened the argument for writing short, direct instructions.
  5. Measure the results. As a simple starting point, look at the analytics on your website to see what impact the content is having. You’ll soon know what does and doesn’t work and you can adjust your text where necessary.

These five simple steps taken together should not only increase the use of your website, but encourage patients to take a self-help route first.

And finally, educate your patients about the features of your website and how it can help them get their answers more quickly. Don’t make the website your practice’s best kept secret!

Survey shows many appointments unnecessary


Survey shows many appointments unnecessary

We know primary healthcare is under pressure. And we also know, at least anecdotally, that GPs are seeing patients who could have been assisted in other ways, perhaps by a pharmacist or a nurse. But how does a practice prove that some appointments are unnecessary, and by what proportion?


Lea Valley Health Federation Proves the Case

One federation comprising eight practices – Lea Valley Health, in Hertfordshire – did just this by conducting a demand audit among patients visiting not just the practices, but the minor injury units and community pharmacies within its area.

The startling results have paved the way for a restructure of primary care in the locality, to improve efficiency, save costs and – most importantly – improve patient care.

And a major part in this redesign is being played by the FootFall websites, commissioned by the federation and now being rolled out across the practices.

Richard Moore is the business manager of Lea Valley Health, which serves a population of 75,500.

“We knew that many appointments were being taken up by patients who didn’t really need to be seen by a doctor. Our clinical lead in the locality could see that the demand was greater than reflected in our funding, but we wanted to demonstrate the extent of this.”

The survey had a fantastic uptake – some 10,000 responses capturing the clinicians’ and patients’ views; 76% of those asked agreed to take part.

Crucially the results revealed that nearly a quarter – 24% – of all GP consultations could be managed by a suitable appropriate pathway, one of which would be the FootFall websites.

The survey also revealed 79% of patients did not seek self-help or advice for their condition, and of those only 2% did so using the surgery website – another argument for bringing in FootFall, to encourage patients to help themselves, and so take pressure off GPs.

One surprising results was the split of reception time: 50:50 between appointment-related demand and non-appointment related demand. Demand here can be alleviated by encouraging patients to self-help, again through the introduction of FootFall.

Richard said: “The results were what we needed to make the necessary changes. Our federation was set up in 2014, but until recently we hadn’t gone very far in terms of working together and sharing best practice. The results of the survey have really been the catalyst for us to make changes, which include the introduction of FootFall.”

The challenge now for Lea Valley Health is to encourage patients to use FootFall.

Said Richard: “We need to educate patients, otherwise we won’t see the benefits. To help with this, we applied for funding from the Eastern Academic Health Science Network, and we needed the evidence of the survey to back our application. We were given funding for a one-year post for a locality engagement officer, who has now started and whose task is to promote FootFall use among patients.”

It is too early to ascertain how much difference FootFall is making. But Richard plans to measure the success of all the changes in a year’s time, and prove that innovations like FootFall can improve services for patients and take pressure off practices.

Richard will be speaking at the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC GP & Practice Managers Conference on this topic on Thursday 11 May. Silicon Practice will be holding a FootFall workshop at the same conference.  If you are attending this event, we look forward to seeing you.

For more information about FootFall, please get in touch with the team here at Silicon Practice.

Fancy a chat? One more way your website can increase patient access.


Fancy a chat? One more way your website can increase patient access.

Online live chat is growing in popularity with businesses. If you’ve a problem with your phone, why waste time getting through to BT on your mobile or landline – just opt for ‘live chat’ on the website. Want to ask about a product before purchase? Try live chat. Need customer services? Once again, live chat is a convenient option.

But live chat isn’t just the domain of retailers. It is also a service that is being evaluated by, who see it as giving a useful alternative contact channel for their users.

GP practices can equally benefit, adding chat to the range of ways patients can communicate with them. Which is why at Silicon Practice, we have added ‘Chat’ to the range of services that FootFall can provide.

What are the benefits of Chat?

One GP practice which has been trialling Chat over the last few weeks is the Waterfield Practice in Bracknell.

Waterfield is a practice with 12,500 patients and two sites. Its FootFall website went live in February last year, and has had a huge impact in terms of reducing workload for staff by driving patients towards online services.

So, has Chat helped the team? And has it improved communication with patients?

Gary Hughes, Practice Manager, explained why Waterfield went ahead.

“I really like online chats. Just the other day, I was buying some chairs and wanted to check details of the warranty, so I used an online chat service. In the same way, we felt this type of function could benefit patients.”

Currently, three of the practice team – Gary and two admin staff – are tasked with answering the online live enquiries. So is this proving yet one more thing to do in an already busy day?

“In some ways, Chat goes against the aim of FootFall, which is to free up staff from dealing with on-demand enquiries from patients. But in fact, I don’t think this is an issue. Chat is very easy to turn off and on, and keep an eye on. Although at the moment the three of us are responding to Chat while we are doing office duties, I would envisage that it could be run effectively by reception teams who are also dealing with patients face-to-face and over the phone.”

Has Chat increased communications with patients?

“We gave Chat a very soft launch, and it is getting very little use at the moment, but it is early days. However, we have plans to promote it, which we can do in a number of ways, such as by making it more visible on the website, advertising it on our surgery TV screen, or through social media and in the leaflets we give out with prescriptions.

“Once patients are more familiar with it, I think it will be extremely useful for answering simple queries, such as whether a prescription is ready.”

Tips for making Chat a success

  • Put processes in place so Chat is monitored and responded to quickly when it is switched on
  • Provide training for the team tasked to use it
  • Target promotion towards the patients who are most likely to use it

Finally, as Gary says, go for it!

“While we embraced FootFall from the first, we were a bit cautious about promoting Chat. On reflection, we should have really thrown ourselves into it from day one then it would be really up and running.”

If you could like to chat about Chat for your FootFall site, or talk about Footfall in general, please get in touch with the team here at Silicon Practice.

The growth of GP federations: how getting together online can improve patient services.


The growth of GP federations: how getting together online can improve patient services.

Sharing best practice has always been the bedrock of primary care within the NHS.

Now, with the pressure on resources greater than ever, this approach brings added benefits, because when surgeries come together to share best practice and skills they create economies of scale across a federation.

Below we highlight three examples of how federations can incorporate Federated FootFall to help achieve these goals.

Sharing delivery of neighbourhood/locality services

At Silicon Practice we have seen an increasing number of practices using a federated way of working to continue to provide high quality care in spite of the growth of demand.

This federal approach is highly effective when it comes to the digital world, where sharing is made much simpler by the removal of geographical constraints.

So we have responded by creating and launching a federated version of FootFall, which has been designed specifically to support the movement towards maximising economies of scale and enabling practices to promote and share resources.

Standardising Policies

Typically, individual practices produce their own patient policies required by NHS England.

Federations we are working with are now standardising the practices’ patient policies across the piece. Once these policies are on their Federated FootFall site, changes made in the future will be automatically populated throughout all their individual sites. This shared approach frees practices of the administrative burden of updating these individually.

Standardising the Patient Experience

With care navigation now being seen as critical to ensuring patients get treatment appropriate to their needs, forming a federation can help deliver a consistent experience of care navigation across a neighbourhood. Using a Federated Footfall site greatly enhances this approach, by helping patients get the help they need within their community and by strengthening the work of local groups which can help support patients, carers and families.

Supporting Collaborative Delivery of Extended Services

Services like physiotherapy or community pharmacy can be easily shared and promoted amongst multiple surgeries. A Federated Footfall site is an ideal way to help effective delivery of these extended services because requests, appointments or messages from patients can be directed straight to the provider.

Our first Federated FootFall site is being launched by Lea Valley Health. The High Street Surgery, in Cheshunt, is piloting the approach prior to roll-out to the other seven practices within the locality.

If you are interested in finding out more about Federated FootFall for your area, please get in touch with the team here at Silicon Practice.

The digital zeitgeist: what’s hot for GP Practices.


The digital zeitgeist: what’s hot for GP Practices.

If you’re not immersed in the digital world, or even if you are, it can be hard to fathom which digital trends are worth riding and which are best ignored.

So to give you a steer, at Silicon Practice we’ve looked back at a year’s worth of designing digital solutions, researching the latest government initiatives, combined with visits to practices, federations and locality teams, to pinpoint three main trends that are gaining traction for 2017.


Sharing delivery of neighbourhood/locality services

Some of the most significant work we’ve been involved in 2016, which is escalating this year, is with neighbourhoods and localities. We are seeing neighbourhood teams offering services to the community as a group. Practices are telling us that collectively they are able to offer more services together than they can individually. As a result we are being asked to incorporate shared services into our FootFall product, such as physiotherapist services and community pharmacists.


Social prescribing/signposting

We’re seeing many GP practices finding merit in liaising online with local groups which are able not only to help their patients take control of their health and become more independent, but also help reduce the caseload of Practices.

We’ve already had instances where we have enabled Practices to capitalise on the valuable work they do in the community, and link their activities to these groups. The groups which we have referenced are many and varied, ranging from stop smoking groups and social services, to care services and child health.

Online requests

Only a few years ago, the idea of patients making an appointment, or asking for a repeat prescription online seemed advanced. Now, this tends to be standard practice. Today we have practices allowing patients to make over three dozen different request types online, ranging from tracking a referral to health reviews. More and more Practices are realising the benefits of increasing online access. Equally, patients are coming on-board with this way of contacting their practice, which often saves a visit or phone call to the practice and is available 24/7.

There are other digital innovations on their way – as we all know, the online world is not standing still – but these three relatively new ways of working are reaping rewards and bringing benefits to patients and Practices alike.

If you would like to talk about FootFall or digitalising any of your Practices’ services, please get in touch with the team here at Silicon Practice.