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Maintain good out-of-hours communications

The removal of out-of-hours responsibilities from daytime family doctor services lessened, but did not remove, a GP's responsibility to their patients. Instead the burden of that responsibility shifted from direct contact to ensuring that continuity of care was maintained between daytime and out-of-hours services. As such it is imperative that clear and robust pathways exist for communications between the two services. The following are suggestions on ways in which this can be effected.

1 Familiarise yourself with the service offered by your local provider – meet with their manager, undertake some shifts, read their literature and carefully read their contract.

2 Ensure your own IT and communications systems are robust and up to the task of not only informing your patients of details of the out-of-hours service but also receiving data from that service.

3 Negotiate how you wish to receive information on patients seen by your

out-of-hours provider. Do you want paper-based faxes, e-mails or verbal reports?

4 Ensure your out-of-hours provider triages the reports and the manner in which they

are sent to you in order that you can act immediately when required to do so.

5 Channel incoming reports through one portal but with contingency back-up. Designate a responsible administrator to input reports on to your clinical system. The appointed individual should be properly trained and competent to recognise degrees of urgency, as directed by the out-of-hours provider, in those incoming reports and to forward them appropriately.

6 Ensure all reports are input on your clinical system by the commencement of the day's surgeries.

7 Jointly audit the service on an annual basis with your out-of-hours provider.

Working in partnership with your out-of-hours provider is vital in maintaining patient confidence in the current model of healthcare delivery in primary care.

Dr Jim Sherifi is a GP in Sudbury, Suffolk

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