We have all heard tales of long NHS GP waiting times and the difficulties some people have in getting to see their doctor. In fact, we may have even experienced them ourselves.
Delays in accessing primary care are a serious issue, not only in relation to personal wellbeing but also in terms of company productivity. Although having to take time off to see a GP is probably unavoidable in most situations, having to attend work ill or not fully functioning for several days while waiting to see a doctor impacts dramatically on presenteeism levels.
Cigna Europe’s Consumer Health Attitudes Survey (2018) shows that 16 per cent of Brits wait at least 11 days to see a GP, with people in London and the south clocking up the longest waiting times.
This NHS GP situation causes several issues. First, it obviously delays dealing with minor aliments which can then drag on, when a quick-fix is readily available once the GP has diagnosed and prescribed.
Second, it can cause an unnecessary bottleneck in accessing care via private medical insurance, since in almost all cases GP referral is the gatekeeper to specialist consultations.
On this latter point, health insurers are taking two routes to resolve this issue:
Direct access – insurers are looking at procedures to bypass the GP by providing triage-type helplines. These were initially introduced to deal with musculoskeletal (MSK) issues, but are now being rolled-out in relation to mental health and cancer worries. This allows the insured to talk to a clinician about the issue and obtain an initial early intervention; perhaps an appointment with a physiotherapist for MSK issues, a counsellor for mental health or a diagnostic centre for cancer. However, there are situations that don’t fall into the direct access process and for these there are…
Virtual GP appointments – all the main health insurers now offer a form of virtual GP, either via phone call and/or a video consultation. In some cases, the virtual GP can arrange referral direct to a consultant.
There has been some negativity around virtual GP services, but increasing GP wait times are softening attitudes. For example, the same Cigna research found 52 per cent of people would be happy to use their smartphone for a GP video consultation about minor ailments, while 17 per cent said they would be happy with this approach for all their appointments. Additionally, when it came to customer satisfaction, the survey found 94 per cent using a GP video consultation were happy with the experience, and that 91 per cent felt the technology worked well.
While not every company can or will provide all their workforce with health insurance, virtual GP services are available as a ‘standalone’ product and in many different formats to suit the needs to be addressed.
For those employers increasingly looking at ways they can help engage staff with their health, there are a variety of GP services available. These range from a text service that allows users to access initial advice via SMS with potential follow-up phone calls, through to laptop/iPad/smartphone video appointments, all the way to private GP booking systems that provide employees with access to a ‘real’ doctor, locally and at a convenient time.
Which one to use will depend on the company and its particular situation. However, whatever is chosen, these services can help employers provide their staff with the tools to take greater ownership of their health and wellbeing – by providing fast access to care and early intervention – as part of an overall strategy to improve health within the workplace.