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Just 1 in 20 patients book GP appointments online

14 August 2015

Patients are not using online services to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions due to little awareness of the services on offer and problems accessing digital services, according to Citizens Advice.

Analysis by the national charity of NHS England’s GP Patient Survey finds that, despite over one in three patients (34%) wanting to book appointments online, just over one in twenty (6%) normally do so.

Since March 2015, all GP practices are required to offer online appointment bookings, repeat prescriptions and access to summary information held in patients’ records.  However, at the time of the NHS Survey in January, GPs were already leading the way, with over 83% of GP practices offering online appointment booking.

Citizens Advice research finds examples of good practice, with some GPs allowing patients to book appointment an app, or offering consultations via Skype.

The new analysis, however, highlights that many patients don’t know about online services:

  • Over half of patients (53%) aren’t aware of what online GP services are available at all.

  • Just 27% of patients were aware of being able to book appointments online

  • 28% are aware that they could book repeat prescriptions online, with one in ten doing so.

The lack of awareness is especially pronounced among young people, with 59% of 18-24 year olds not knowing what online GP services are available, despite almost half (45%) preferring online appointment booking.

Previous research from Citizens Advice revealed that young people are more likely to go to A&E or a walk-in centre when they can’t access a GP. One in seven 18-34 year olds was unable see a GP last time they tried to make an appointment, compared with one in seventeen over-55s.

Citizens Advice’s research reveals technical problems with online registration software can also be part of the reason why so few patients access online services.  In addition, some GP services require that a patient goes to the practice with ID in order to get the necessary login details for online services which presents a further barrier.

Earlier research from Citizens Advice found attending a GP practice in person can be difficult for people who, for instance, have work commitments or caring duties.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“There is a mismatch between how patients want to access GP services and how they actually do so. People want to be able to book appointments and order repeat prescriptions online, but aren’t doing so because they don’t know the services are there.  

”It is important that people can conveniently access local health services and find the systems easy to use.  There is a real opportunity for GPs to use digital services to transform the way they interact with patients, and many GPs are leading the way.

"With added pressures on GP services, online appointment booking and repeat prescriptions can be advantageous to GPs and patients alike."

“GPs can do more to promote online booking, and must ensure that the systems in place are user-friendly.

“Public services including doctors surgeries need to build on the work of many GPs by ensuring that online services are well publicised and accessible for all.”

Notes to editors

  1. The GP Patient Survey is a quantitative survey in which questionnaires are sent by post to approximately 2.6 million people across England (split across two waves - in january and July).

  2. The survey, run by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS England, asks patients to feedback their experiences of the service provided by their GP surgery as well as their preferences for different approaches. The results are validated as Official Statistics.

  3. In 2014/15, just over 858,381 questionnaires were returned, giving a response rate of 32.5 per cent.

  4. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.

  5. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  6. To find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales or to get advice online, visit citizensadvice.org.uk.

  7. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  8. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends.

  9. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.