This site is intended for health professionals only

Always the admin

Dr David Turner

It’s always the admin that’s the problem.

During my time working as a locum, if asked for feedback, I’d generally have no problem with the room, equipment, patients or fellow clinicians. My gripes tended to be with the admin.

Not able to log into the computer; the clinical system not working; the printer broken; not clear which form to use for referral, etc, etc.

After having now done some Covid vaccination clinics, I can report that my complaint is the same – the paperwork.

Our PCN has done outstandingly well vaccinating the majority of the patients in our most vulnerable groups. However, the rate limiting step to how fast we can work is entering the patient’s details onto the computer.

Incredibly (or actually not so incredibly, I suppose ) some bright spark in a back office somewhere has decided to change the way a patient’s date of birth has to be entered. In December, when we first started vaccinating, it could be entered numerically, like 1/1/21.

In our latest clinics, the poor data entry person has to enter dates of birth as: ‘1-Jan -21’, and you can’t miss a dash out or copy and paste it – it has to be typed every time. If you wanted to devise a way to slow us down and irritate, it would be difficult to come up with anything much more annoying.

This, of course, is in addition to asking the patient for their name, address and phone number. I’m sure you can imagine how much fumbling with reading glasses and looking numbers up on scraps of paper this latter question involves for the average octogenarian.

Another addition to the data collection is now patient ethnicity – important to record, but not essential to be recorded while we’re jabbing. In theory, a two second job, but as usual, the people who come up with these ideas have never spoken to a patient in the flesh.

‘What is your nationality?’

‘Oh, C of E’

‘Where were you born?’

‘Around here’

The seemingly simplest and most innocent of questions can turn into a saga, when all you want to do is jab them in the arm and get them out the room.

They sit waiting for their vaccine, then for 15 minutes being observed afterwards. Would it not be possible to do all the data collection then, and enter it at a later date?

In a parallel universe, if I were devising a system to record vaccinations, I would ensure that everybody had a unique number that they had printed on a card. Then they walk in a vaccination clinic and all the data entry individual needs to do is plug a number into the computer, jab and away. Any extra details like nationality or the name of their auntie’s cat can be collected later.

Imagine, if only such a unique number existed for each adult in this country.

Sarcasm aside, a plea to those in charge, we all want to get through this pandemic as quickly as possible. Streamline the data entry and I’ll pledge to get through 50% more patients in a session at no extra cost.

That’s not an offer I make every day.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London

Pulse is carrying out a snapshot survey on GP workload based on GPs’ day in practice on Monday 1 March. We are asking GPs to take part to help raise awareness about the strain the profession is under.


Katharine Morrison 24 February, 2021 12:48 pm

Yes, its the admin and IT that grinds you down.

Keitflyer 1 27 February, 2021 1:31 pm

Come on David, you know the card with the number system is standard in Europe. And yes all the patient does is run the card through the card reader, and there is no need for any questions or data entry effort at all. The saving of time and effort is massive.