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NHS England invests nearly £1m in app signposting patients away from GPs

NHS England has increased funding for an app which redirects patients seeking GP appointments to alternative services, its developer has said.

The ‘pre-GP’ appointment-booking app triages patient after accepting a request for an appointment, by signposting to other services.

iPlato Healthcare told Pulse that NHS England has already spent ‘close to £1m’ on funding for the app, which the tech developer claims could ‘save the NHS £153m a year’.

The app, which was funded through the Small Business Research Initiative, works by allowing the user to choose and book an available GP appointment, before requesting the reason for the appointment.

It then signposts them to other services which could be of help – for example a pharmacist for headaches, coughs, flu and common skin complaints. The patient has the option to skip and continue to the consultation, or find a local pharmacist instead.

The patient can cancel their GP appointment if they are happy with alternative services.

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The renewed investment has brought the total to £800,000, and will be used to add artificial intelligence and natural language programming to the app, allowing it to consider a patient’s clinical history, iPlato said.

The company has so far only trialled the app for one month in a 10,000-patient London-based practice, but is rolling out a new set of pilots in 20 practices across England from July.

It claimed the initial trial had resulted in 57 cancelled GP appointments, with related savings – which if extrapolated across England – could save £153m annually.

iPLATO Healthcare chief executive officer Tobias Alpsten explained that the app will use AI to ’empower’ patients in their ‘quest for health’.

But he said it was not the app’s objective ‘to carry out a pre-consultation or to block access to the GP but simply to make the patient aware of the availability of various options in order that they make the most advantageous appointment’.

But BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that ‘apps such as this should not become barriers to patients getting access to a GP or practice team member when it is important that they are seen in that way’.