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10 ways IT can save your practice time and money

GPs may often have little choice over clinical system, but there are many other innovative technologies available, says Dr Kirti Patel

By Dr Kirti Patel

GPs may often have little choice over clinical system, but there are many other innovative technologies available, says Dr Kirti Patel

1 Document management software

Good document management software such as DOCman from PCTI and Apolloscan from Apollo can benefit practices in many ways. It is possible to go paperless with this software, using it to manage a variety of non-patient-related documents such as bills, procedures, memos and lists.

Any document can be scanned and filed. From this point onwards the document can be made available to any member of practice staff and can also be routed to a specific recipient and annotated, commented on and forwarded. All actions can be audit trailed and the full history of the document viewed. This can save the cost of paper and improve productivity and ultimately patient care.

2 Label printers

Both Dymo and Brother produce label printers that can be used with EMIS

for less than £100. EasyLabeller and LabelTrace allow you to print pathology, appointment and address labels in seconds. This can save a lot of time and energy. If specimens aren't organised efficiently, pathology labs have trouble interpreting request forms and GPs and nurses can waste valuable consultation time writing labels.

3 Digital dictation and voice recognition software

Digital dictation software allows sound files to be sent to your secretary electronically. With the advent of GP federations your sound file may one day be sent to India (or somewhere cheaper) for transcription. You can check the document before printing or send it electronically. Many hospital trusts already do this.

Voice recognition software can completely revolutionise our recording of consultations. There are numerous solutions available from suppliers such as Grundig Business Systems, Voice Technologies, Hands-Free Computing, Winscribe and Dragon.

4 Touch-in reception screen

Time is precious for receptionists, who have to make appointments and deal with inquiries over the phone, among a host of other administrative duties. Often, patients can queue for several minutes just to let the doctor know they have arrived. Touch-in reception screens can save time.

There are numerous versions available, such as Automated Arrivals for EMIS and Patient Portal for Vision. This system and an automated telephone or internet appointment system may allow you to use your practice staff in different ways.

Eventually, with GP federations, many backroom functions may be done elsewhere.

5 Communication software

In the past, correspondence was received on paper. Most practices now receive some pathology results on their clinical system. A few receive radiology results. Some PCTs allow practices to interrogate the hospital pathology system when blood results are requested by specialists, for instance when rheumatology patients are having their monitoring done in secondary care.

With data transformation services it is possible to receive out-of-hours reports via the clinical system, most of which have some form of messaging function to allow you to contact your team and keep an audit trail.

Some practices use the electronic appointment book of the clinical system to add messages or visit information. More specifically, EnCompass software from Wiggly-Amps is designed as an electronic replacement for the visit and message book. FrontDesk software also has a messaging system with an appointment book. The messaging system is easy and intuitive, allowing reminders, notes and memos to be sent to users easily and quickly.

6 Saving paper, toner and resources

Practices use vast amounts of resources such as paper and toner. Electronic document transfer (EDT from PCTI) enables GP practices to receive documents from hospitals electronically without having to attach manually or scan. Out-of-hours information can also be transmitted to practices electronically rather than faxed or sent in the post,

using systems such as GePmail and Adastra collaborating with the PCTI EDT system.

Pathology and radiology request forms also use a lot of paper and ink, which could be saved in the future using online requesting, for instance, tQUEST from Indigo4 Systems.

Connecting for Health's electronic prescription service should mean the days of the printed FP10 are numbered. Instead of being given printed patient information leaflets, patients can now access the internet for advice using approved sites such as nhs.net or patient.co.uk. Practices might put information portals in reception areas.

7 Digital photography

Some hospital trusts are already using this technology for dermatology referrals. There are some potential clinical issues, but greater use of digital photography does have the potential to save time and resources. Further information can be found at the British Teledermatology Society.

8 Contacting patients by text

NHS mail allows you to text patients without charge and similar systems exist from Apollo and iPLATO. You can save time by using these to remind patients to attend for tests and appointments and to tell them when medication reviews are due.

9 Remote access

There is no system for remote access to patient data within the NHS at present. Some PCTs allow the use of ‘log me in' and ‘away from my desk' systems but many do not. BT's N3 solution does not always allow full access to your desktop.

Remote access for home working would reduce travel and emissions – especially

for many backroom functions such as typing, secretarial support, coding and summarising. Indeed practices could share backroom staff.

10 Connecting for Health and the NHS National Programme for IT

Not everyone is a supporter of Connecting for Health or the Summary Care Record. But I do believe they should improve patient care and bring many advantages that have yet to be appreciated. Many of the points outlined above will eventually be addressed by Connecting for Health and one day there should be a standard system for most of these IT technologies across the NHS.

Dr Kirti Patel is a GP in Holloway, north London

GP using IT

With the advent of GP federations your sound file may one day be sent to India (or somewhere cheaper) for transcription. You can check the document before printing or send it electronically. Many hospital trusts already do this.

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