Feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of an online alternative to face-to-face consultation in general practice: a mixed-methods study of webGP in six Devon practices
To evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of webGP as piloted by six general practices.
Mixed-methods evaluation, including data extraction from practice databases, general practitioner (GP) completion of case reports, patient questionnaires and staff interviews.
General practices in NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group’s area approximately 6 months after implementing webGP (February–July 2016).
Six practices provided consultations data; 20 GPs completed case reports (regarding 61 e-consults); 81 patients completed questionnaires; 5 GPs and 5 administrators were interviewed.
Attitudes and experiences of practice staff and patients regarding webGP.
WebGP uptake during the evaluation was small, showing no discernible impact on practice workload. The completeness of cross-sectional data on consultation workload varied between practices.
GPs judged 41/61 (72%) of webGP requests to require a face-to-face or telephone consultation. Introducing webGP appeared to be associated with shifts in responsibility and workload between practice staff and between practices and patients.
81/231 patients completed a postal survey (35.1% response rate). E-Consulters were somewhat younger and more likely to be employed than face-to-face respondents. WebGP appeared broadly acceptable to patients regarding timeliness and quality/experience of care provided. Similar problems were presented by all respondents. Both groups appeared equally familiar with other practice online services; e-consulters were somewhat more likely to have used them.
From semistructured staff interviews, it appeared that, while largely acceptable within practice, introducing e-consults had potential for adverse interactions with pre-existing practice systems.
There is potential to assess the impact of new systems on consultation patterns by extracting routine data from practice databases. Staff and patients noticed subtle changes to responsibilities associated with online options. Greater uptake requires good communication between practice and patients, and organisation of systems to avoid conflicts and misuse. Further research is required to evaluate the full potential of webGP in managing practice workload.