People who use on-line triage systems offered by practices have the same questions as telephone users – but the age of users tends to be young, according to analysis published today (26 March 2019).
A study by researchers at the University of Warwick looked at the patterns-of-use and patient types of online triage, using information from 5,447 patients from practices using the ‘askmyGP’ platform between 19 May 2017 to 31 July 2017.
The data was quantitatively analysed to describe characteristics of users, patterns-of-use, and reasons given by patients for using the platform and free-text comments left by 569 patients on their experience of use were also qualitatively analysed.
The researchers found that two thirds of users were female and almost a quarter were aged between 25 and 34. Highest levels of use were 8-10am on weekdays – particularly Mondays and Tuesdays – and 8 to 10 pm at weekends.
The most common reason for using the online triage service was to ask about medication, followed by administrative requests and reporting specific symptoms, such as skin conditions, ear nose and throat queries and musculoskeletal problems.
Many patients said they found the system convenient, adding that it gave them the opportunity to describe their symptoms fully. However, others were less satisfied. Their views often depended on how easily they could access their practice, and on the specific problem they reported.
Researcher Dr Helen Atherton, from Warwick Medical School, said: “In reality, patients were seeking access to health care at the same times and for the same sort of problems than they did using traditional routes. This suggests that patients’ consulting behaviour will not be easily changed by introducing on-line platforms.
“Therefore practices should be clear as to exactly why they are introducing these on-line platforms, and what they want to achieve for themselves and their patients in doing so – the expectation may well not meet reality.”
She added: “Practices could focus on encouraging people to deal with administrative issues using the platform to free up phone lines for other patients. It could be promoted specifically to younger patients, or those who prefer to write about their problems and not to use the telephone.”