20 March 2020

Patients lying on COVID-19 prescreening to get appointments

General practice Technology

Within two weeks the major appointment engines have developed and deployed screening protocols for COVID-19 panicked patients which look to be significantly reducing the face-to-face load at practices. But some patients are lying to get appointments.

It was a relatively simple idea, and not that hard to add to their apps. A few weeks back the appointment engines, and some other pre-screening groups, such as BetterConsult, decided to add COVID-19 pre-screening questions for their practice bookings, and add the functionality to the app and SMS appointment reminders.

Two weeks ago, some government departments and PHNs were recommending that GP practices turn off their appointment engines altogether in the face of a deluge of patients who were filling the books to come and check if they have COVID-19, when often they didn’t even have any symptoms.

Many practices were reporting chaos in the surgery as patients with or without symptoms weren’t taking or seeing the advice of government and turning up directly at the surgery.

But with the COVID-19 screening options turned on, a lot of practices are now reporting that the situation has become significantly more manageable, as they direct patients to either move to a telehealth call, wait at home, or go to a testing option.

One of the first groups to get screening up and running was HotDoc. Hotdoc spokesperson, Charles Beaton,  told The Medical Republic today that when HotDoc offered the screening option it had no idea how many practices would actually turn the COVID-19 screening option on. But within one week, more 95 % of their clients had, and as things now stand the system is managing more than 65,000 appointments per day where the patient is asked COVID-19 questions as they are making the booking.

That simple additional step is proving a Godsend to a lot of practice managers who were starting to fold under the weight of panicking patients.

“We’re concerned that the general public who are at risk of COVID-19, don’t know the telehealth items exist. That’s why we’ve changed our triage flow to direct at-risk patients to book a telephone consult,” said Hotdoc co-founder and CEO Dr Ben Hurst.

“By helping to facilitate TeleHealth we are also helping protect our frontline medical staff from the highly contagious COVID-19 by ensuring those infected or in isolation can still see their regular GP, without attending a GP clinic.”

The other major appointments engine, HealthEngine, is also up and running with pre-screening for COVID-19 and reporting a similar uptake by clients of the pre-screening option. HealthEngine work with practices in a different way to HotDoc in that it predominantly focuses on providing practices with new patient leads through their highly trafficked public health portal (although they do have an overall booking system for their clients, they don’t generate revenue from this).

One issue that is being reported by one of the appointment engines is some patients are lying on the prescreening in order to still get a booking.

One booking engine, which has an audit feature check with their practices, has told TMR that up to 10% patients filling in pre-screening questions falsely even though they are asymptomatic.

HealthConsult CEO Rami Weiss said that their product worked in a manner that could audit out patients attempting to trick the booking system.

“We are providing the information directly to the practice rather than relying on the patient to follow the right process,” said Weiss. ” And since things are changing so quickly it allows the practice to adapt real-time to their preferred protocols”

Weiss also said that given the rise of telehealth consults GPs were finding it more difficult and time-consuming to do history-taking over the phone and therefore having BetterConsult’s notes prior to the consult,  is helping them improve this process.

“We have worked hard to make sure clinics can still offer patients continuity of care, even if they are isolated due to COVID-19 or eligible to access telehealth under the new telehealth Medicare item number”, Dr  Hurst said.

HotDoc’s software prompts patients who meet eligibility criteria to call the practice or book a telehealth phone consult instead of a standard consultation and ensures up to date contact details are registered to enable the telehealth consult.

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