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At the heart of general practice since 1960

How your practice's website will pay off

Practice websites will be an increasingly useful tool under the

new contract says Dr Sohail Butt,

who helped set one up for his practice

The quality framework makes it attractive to encourage e-mail consultations where patients monitor their weight, pulse and blood pressure at home and send the information via e-mail for review by the GP or practice nurse and websites are ideal for this. Additional quality points may be earned from online patient satisfaction surveys and again websites are ideal. The database can be designed to produce automatic reports which are very useful from a management point of view and which allow you to focus on areas in need of change.

Many websites provide medical information for patients and provide links to useful online resources such as NHS Direct, travel vaccination advice and patient information leaflets. Some GPs produce a regular newsletter to inform patients of developments and new services. A news page on a website can also provide an easy and cost-effective alternative to the increasing number of people with internet access.

Your practice website can be a good tool for building up contacts with colleagues and potential clients. It can contain all your contact details and services you offer to clients, other professions and commissioners of non-NHS medical services.

How to set up your website

Some GP enthusiasts have learnt web authoring skills and have set up and maintained their own websites. But most GPs, busy with the new contract, will consider asking someone else to design the website for them.

There are individual designers with a special interest in GP practice design who will provide this service from about £350 with anuual ongoing costs of from £250 upwards.

We used Dr Alun Price at www.internet-gp.com to design, host and maintain our website. I collaborated with him, spending about eight hours looking at a GP website, collating the relevant information and sending it to him. I then spent a further four hours reviewing his work and suggesting changes.

We made our assistant practice manager responsible for updating the website. I check it most weeks, and if there are problems with it patients usually let us know. We review it at each IT meeting and send any amendment by e-mail or fax to our website designer who makes the necessary changes. I intend to learn how to make simple changes myself.

Patients' use of website

Our 15,300-patient suburban PMS practice has now had a website for one year. I think it has been of great value. During the year 1,580 people have visited the site and

we get about 10-20 hits a day. I get two e-mail prescription requests a week, and about one per patient per week.

We have used the website to advise patients of staff changes and changes to the appointment system. We have also used it when advertising for new GPs as a way of promoting the practice. I am satisfied with the current usage and am happy with the feedback to date.

The benefit for GPs in the future

In the future I believe having a practice website will be essential. The Department of Health is committed to IT development. E-mail prescriptions, booking of appointments and consultations will be encouraged by the department and PCTs to help improve access. Your website creates a useful way to offer these services.

Furthermore, the website allows the practice to market itself to the PCT for enhanced services and commercial companies looking for non-NHS medical services. Thus the site can help the practice maximise profitability.

Allowing patients to book and cancel appointments may reduce practice administration costs. Patients' e-mail of home recordings of blood pressure, height, weight and peak flow rate may be a way of increasing data recording to improve quality of care and earn quality points.

Many websites now provide a method for patients to order repeat prescriptions, which is helpful for working people and the housebound and which can reduce time-consuming telephone requests for prescriptions. Some practices have developed systems to allow patients to book a restricted number of appointments online, which can save receptionists' time. Online e-mail cancellation forms allow patients to cancel appointments easily (particularly in the early morning when the phones are busy) and so reduce DNAs.

It is estimated there are more than 1,600 practice websites in the UK ­ you can look at most of these at www.gpwebsites.net

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