BMA poll: what’s wrong with email consultations

We should rejoice:  in the latest BMA poll, 86% of GPs agree that telephone consultations are an effective way of consulting with patients for appropriate reasons.

Further: 63% believe that telephone consultations can be an effective way of managing demand as an alternative to face to face consultations.

(15 years after the first GP pioneers had the idea and five years after I found them that’s not bad going)

But:  “most GPs voice concerns about the use of email consultations. 71% are concerned that email consultations would increase their workload, and 63% are worried about the clinical limitations.”

This makes perfect sense.  Email is unstructured and insecure.  If I email my GP to say “I’m worried about a pain in my stomach” you can imagine the exchange over several days achieving little for a lot of effort.  It’s stretching a point even to call this a consultation, and there’s no sure way to know it’s me sending the emails.  Rarely a problem but you don’t want to find you have shared records with a tabloid hack or estranged spouse.

Yet think again about the fundamentals of the internet, as here lies hidden treasure.  It enables remote, asynchronous communication.  “Remote” is clearly transformative, as we’ve seen with the telephone.  “Asynchronous” is transformative again, simply meaning that the two parties are not present at the same time.

Imagine the chaos if patients could request and collect repeat prescriptions only in person from the doctor.  No practice allows this.  They all work by patients leaving a request and picking up the script later after the GP has written it, asynchronously.

What if we could overcome the problems of structure and security to harness this double transformation?

That is what we have done with the askmyGP service.  Allowing online access is easing pressure on telephone lines (synchronous) and therefore reducing stress for staff and patients.  Asking patients a series of questions to explore their symptoms means the GP has a structured report with which to make a well informed triage decision (see, speak to, or refer).  Putting GPs in control of who they see, when and how means time saved for those most in need.

We’ve been amazed by the speed of take up by patients, over 30% of demand moving online in only 6 weeks, and rising by the day.

PMCF winners and Vanguard sites have made much of the potential for online access as a patient benefit.  We agree, but what has been missing is how, and the means to make this a time saver for GPs.  There are now reasons to be hopeful.

We are so excited about this that we’ve created a fictitious practice, Bramley Surgery, where anyone can be a patient and see how it works.  Try a current medical concern or remember the last time you needed a doctor.

You can try conditions or symptoms but guess which type most patients put?  We’ve done the analysis and if you would like the detail, please drop me a line.

Whoever wins on Thursday will be unable to conjure up enough GPs, or conjure down enough patient demand.  We have to do the magic for them.

Harry Longman
Founder, Chief Executive
GP Access Ltd

PS Martin Marshall’s must read blog on why the NHS needs general practice,  “where uncertainty is acknowledged and risk is managed”.  Doctors do this well, computers don’t: food for thought on how IT needs to complement the professional role.

2 responses to “BMA poll: what’s wrong with email consultations”

  1. Tony says:

    The Bramley Surgery Link isn’t working 🙁

    • Harry Longman says:

      Apologies Tony. This is due to a 123-reg problem but we have an alternative. Please go to and follow the link to Try It Now.

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