Clinical decision support specialist Plain Healthcare is piloting a system that enables patients to self-assess their symptoms online before seeing a GP.

Odyssey SelfAssess is based on the same software as the company’s Odyssey TeleAssess triaging system, which is already widely used by clinicians in out-of-hours services.

The SelfAssess software is written in lay language and is initially being piloted with students at Coventry University Health Centre, who are able to assess their own condition in the waiting room before seeing a GP.

Plain Healthcare plans further pilots later in the year in first line contact settings such as GP practices, pharmacies, emergency departments and walk-in centres.

The company says the system could also be offered online through a practice website, enabling patients to assess their symptoms before making an appointment.

Dr Jeremy Dale, clinical director of Plain Healthcare and Professor of Primary Care at Warwick University, said a research project was examining whether the software was acceptable to patients and effective at identifying their needs correctly as well as looking at its impact on GP consultations.

Dr Dale said the Odyssey software worked differently to other decision support software. It encourages open questioning of the patient, while traditional software tends to use binary algorithms.

He said there had been no published evidence of the effectiveness of such algorithms, but anecdotal feedback suggested they could lead to initiation of care that might not be necessary or appropriate.

Dr Dale said the study of Odyssey SelfAssess was looking at how well the software worked when used by patients.

“We know it works when used by nurses but we needed to look at the safety of the decision support system when used by patients. So far it is looking very promising.”

At the Coventry University Health Centre students are able to complete the online assessment in the waiting room and print out information to take into the consultation.

Dr Dale told EHI primary Care: “The student population was selected because it is highly IT literate but also quite often quite anxious about health and not sure how the health service works. We will need to go on and look at other populations.”

Dr Dale said feedback suggested that patients found the online assessment acceptable. The research is looking at whether it frees up more time for GPs within the consultation.

He added: “We are looking at whether it gives you more time to provide information and advice to patients or to provide information on another health topic such as smoking or what ever. We are not trying to mechanise the consultation but to empower patients to articulate their needs.”

The software was selected to showcase innovation in the West Midlands as part of the national Innovation EPO last week. Plain Healthcare said it expected the full version of Odyssey SelfAssess to be available to customers in 2010.

Link: Plain Healthcare