As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many health and social care services have had to switch to using working remotely. Healthwatch Wandsworth and NHS Wandsworth South West London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) wanted to hear about people’s experiences of accessing and using digital and telephone appointments. We used a variety of methods and over 570 people contributed their views.
What we did
An anonymous survey was developed to ask people who live in Wandsworth to share their views and experiences on how digital and telephone appointments with GPs and other health and care services them since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. This included asking about what they think worked well and less well about booking appointments, availability, their actual appointment, and the options given.
We also worked to reach a wider community via 1 to 1 interviews and online forums for further insight. This included groups with special educational needs, faith groups and different age groups.
The experiences we gathered relate to appointments from March 2020 to January 2021.
Views and experiences of using digital and telephone appointments were mixed, even amongst different sections of the community.
Some praised and preferred telephone appointments, particularly for routine checks. Common reasons included needing less time to go to the surgery and not having to wait in the waiting room and for those who may have difficulty leaving home.
However, some fed back negative experiences of digital and telephone appointments. They most often referenced long waiting times to speak to healthcare personnel, unhelpful first points of contact, rushed calls and feeling that they did not provide the same level of care as face-to-face appointments.
Patterns of experience and preferences often depended individual need and circumstance, sometimes even varying for a person depending on the need at the time, as well as variation in what services to offered and how services were administered.
See our full list of recommendations in the report which summarises considerations for decision makers for a consistent level of service throughout the system to respond to need and circumstances of the patient and the appointments.
Digital and telephone appointments can work well for straightforward appointments such as check-ins and repeat prescriptions. They work less well for more complex or sensitive issues or when physical cues or examinations are important.
Communication needs, mobility and travel needs, privacy and access to technology are important themes, but digital and telephone appointments could work better than face to face appointments for some, or less well for others according to these themes.
Many people we spoke to recognised the challenge health and care professionals faced and valued attempts to do things differently during the pandemic. Many seemed happy with their experience identified a value in continuing digital and telephone appointments. A blended approach to appointments could harness the benefits and avoid the drawbacks people described to us. Appointment booking and scheduling system are an important part of this.
What happens next?
By working together with the NHS reaching and collecting insight from communities, draft insight reports were shared with people in charge of services to make sure participant responses have already helped local health and care services understand how their services are working, where things can be made better and to inform their ongoing recovery planning for health and care in Wandsworth.
On publication of this final report the NHS will consider the report’s recommendations and will provide us with information about completed and ongoing work in response which will be published and updated alongside this report on our website. This final report will shape the future of services in Wandsworth.