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New roles for your healthcare assistant

Dr Anita Sharma argues that an efficient practice must use the full potential of its healthcare assistant

Dr Anita Sharma argues that an efficient practice must use the full potential of its healthcare assistant

The new GP contract meant I was spending more time with my computer than my patients and this was starting to drain my energy.

We are only a small practice in a deprived area with limited resources, but I began to think of ways that I could train my already stretched practice team to work smarter.

My first step was to recruit a talented new healthcare assistant with a positive attitude who could take on a number of different roles in the practice. It was a decision that has reaped rewards.

It is important to think about the kind of roles you may want your healthcare assistant to take on before beginning recruitment, because this way you can advertise and interview accordingly. You may want to ask if your prospective healthcare assistant has ECG or Doppler skills to allow them to take on vascular checks, for instance. I was looking for someone with some knowledge of the QOF, Read codes, chronic disease management, using templates and producing reports and audits. Above all, I wanted someone who was eager to learn new skills.

My healthcare assistant's role has become multifaceted and diverse, freeing up my time and that of the practice nurse and helping us provide better care for patients and to achieve our PCT targets.

This article will look at five roles he performs in my practice, and I hope it will inspire you to think outside the box when you are recruiting a healthcare assistant or reviewing the role of a current member of staff.

Health champion

My healthcare assistant lives and breathes health promotion all day every day and actively targets and manages patients with long-term conditions.

He can do chronic disease reviews in conjunction with the practice nurse or GP to improve disease management. All patients registered with the practice have their health check done either the same day or the next day. Previously they had to wait for one or two weeks to see the practice nurse.

When a role of chlamydia champion came up, he became actively involved, reminding reception staff to promote our testing service and putting together patient alerts under the guidance of the practice manager. As a result, I have already achieved the PCT target for chlamydia screening.

With such a diverse role, the healthcare assistant frees up time for the practice nurse to deal with more complex issues. He also frees up my time – if the practice nurse was on holiday I used to have to do the new patient registration health check!

Web developer

Introducing new systems and technology to a practice can be a tortuous process, but we have found our healthcare assistant to be invaluable in improving the way we communicate.

We used to do everything verbally by writing in a message book or by using sticky note pads – and that meant information got lost or was overlooked. Our healthcare assistant was able to help us adopt electronic ways of communicating, including emails and a new website.

Thanks to his skills, the practice website was created at no cost. The practice JX board is regularly updated with health promotion messages – and this could be one reason why we achieved the highest coverage in our PCT flu vaccination targets.

Coding expert

Our healthcare assistant has enviable computer skills and has been invaluable in extracting Read codes from often poorly written hospital letters – saving me time.

He has become involved in ensuring we are recording our QOF work correctly: making sure we are using safe Read codes so that our prevalence figures are accurate, implementing new version templates, doing regular audits and sending reports before the deadline. This has freed up some of my practice manager's time so that she can concentrate on other areas such as organising medical student training, liaising with PCT managers and looking at ways to involve the practice in research.

With such skill and talent, the locality commissioning group started involving him in Read coding and improving data collection. This was bit frightening to us initially but I have made him sign a contract!

Spirometry technician

Our healthcare assistant is keen to learn new skills and was enthusiastic about participating in a recent screening scheme for COPD in smokers and ex-smokers.

The practice nurse was proactively screening patients with spirometry and we decided to also train up the healthcare assistant – allowing him to take screening too.

Meeting stand-in

I have increasingly involved our healthcare assistant in practice meetings, primary care team meetings and even meetings of the locality commissioning group. This has helped to improve communication and build our relationship with neighbouring practices. As we are a small practice, I am not always able to attend these meetings. If the practice manager is busy or on holiday, he represents the practice.

Dr Anita Sharma is a GP in Chadderton, Greater Manchester

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