TPP has completed the pilot of the patient self-service module of its SystmOnline software. The software will now be made available to all SystmOne GP organisations.

The software makes it possible for GP practices to offer a 24-hour online service to their patients for online appointment booking, requesting and registration. Patients can also add notes and comments to their GP and change their contact details.

The service is free of charge to practices and patients. Any practise can use the free service by phoning up to be activated or by adding a link to its website.

The general launch of the software follows a successful pilot at Saltaire Medical Centre, Shipley. Other organisations to pilot the software are Rawdon Surgery, Leeds; and Greenwich Avenue Surgery, Hull.

The benefit to patients is that “they can do this from wherever they are and at any time of day,” a spokeswoman for TPP told EHI Primary Care.

New patients will also be able to use the service to register their details online and print out a competed GMS1 form.

Saltaire went live with SystmOnline in September 2008, after previously using EMIS Access to manage its appointments online.

“When we migrated to SystmOnline, we hoped to retain some of the functionality that our previous system offered,” said Catherine Darlington, the practice business manager.

“Patients have a real appetite for the system and welcome the fact that they can book appointments at their convenience and are not limited to surgery opening times. They are also impressed that they can book appointments up to three months in advance,” she added.

Darlington said the 250 patients who were signed up to the practice’s old service, have now transferred to SystmOnline.

Darlington said patients were the ones who benefited from the service, rather than the practice: “It doesn’t really save us time, as prescriptions still need to be processed. We like to sell it as a benefit to our patients rather than to the practise.”

"In order for it to have any real impact on the practice we would need all of our 10,100 patients to sign up,” added Darlington. The practice is now planning to develop the service to include nursing appointments as well as SMS texting for appointment reminders and results.

Greenwich Avenue Surgery, has also piloted SystmOnline.  Practice manager, Sue Thompson offered advice for other practices looking at the service. “Make sure you make enough appointments available to give the patient a reasonable choice. To begin with, we were worried that appointments would be wasted, but as reception staff can also book into them, that doesn’t happen,” she said.

According to TPP, around 20 practices have already enquired about the service, and the number of patients using it is growing.

To register for the service patients need to provide two forms of ID and are then issued with a password.

Ashley Brook, TPP customer relationships manager, said that the service has been accredited by NHS Connecting for Health and is fully secure.

She said that practices using the SystmOnline software will be able to monitor activity using a comprehensive audit trail, and can revoke log-in details should they have any concern over a patient’s use.