Patients that use websites to check and self-manage respiratory tract infections (RTIs) are less likely to see their GP, researchers say.
The team, who studied the effect of using website-based information in patients over the age of 18 who had RTIs, found that patients who were randomised to use the website service were nearly 30% less likely to see their GP than patients who had not had access to the website.
Presenting patients with NHS Direct details on the website also led more website users to contact the service, compared to non-users.
But the study, published in the BMJ Open, said that people who accessed and took guidance from the website also experienced slightly longer illness duration, although this was not significantly different between groups, and put this down to patients being recommended to use ibuprofen to treat their conditions.
Despite this, there was no significant increase in hospital admissions in the website users, compared to non-users.
Patients were prompted by email to visit the website every four weeks and upon accessing the website, patients were asked whether they thought they needed to see a GP with their RTI.
Patients selecting ‘yes’ then completed a series of questions about their symptoms and medical history and were then offered tailored advice depending on their answers.
The researchers, from the University of Southampton, believe that their findings support using internet-based interventions to reduce GP visits.
Writing in the paper, Professor Paul Little, lead author and a GP in Southampton, concluded: ‘An internet-delivered intervention for managing RTIs helps participants appropriately manage their symptoms and contacts with NHS staff.
’The estimated 25% reduction in GP consultations, even if only over a period of a few months, would provide very considerable relief in terms of pressure on services during the winter months.’