GP surgeries should share good practice, help build connections and support the vision of the Long Term Plan when implementing online consultations, according to new guidance.

NHS England has published a new toolkit for using online consultations in primary care to help individual practices with the “successful adoption and seamless integration of online consultations alongside face to face and other services”.

The document suggests there’s no “one size fits all” approached to implementing online consultations and encouraged different practices to share their experiences to learn from each other.

“This is a long-term change to a more sustainable way of working that can improve your working life, staff morale and your patients’ experience of accessing care. Realising these benefits will require an investment of effort to bring about change and this should not be underestimated,” the guidance reads.

It provides professional, safety, regulatory and medicolegal recommendations for both practices and commissioners to consider when employing digital solutions.

Commissioners are encouraged to work with local medical councils (LMC) and primary care networks (PCN) at all stages of the implementation process.

Allocated funding should be used to both purchase systems and support successful implementation, including training and skills.

The new GP contract agreed between NHS England and the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP committee in January gives practices almost £1bn across five years to help fulfil ambitions laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan.

This includes all GP practices offering online consultations by April 2020 and making at least 25% of appointments available for online booking by July this year.

Practices are also expected to provide all patients with online access to their full medical record by April 2020.

Six key aims of the toolkit:

  1. To focus on people, not technology. Adopting the tools alone will not transform care; they must be combined with a new way of working
  2. Share good practice underpinned by evidence and professional guidance
  3. Describe critical success factors for making the most of innovative technology
  4. Bring to life the opportunity. Case studies enable you to learn directly from practices with practical advice about what works
  5. Help practices build connections with peers, learn collaboratively and join a virtual learning platform
  6. Support progress towards delivering the requirements of the GMS contract, network contract DES and the vision of the Long Term Plan

Digital services in primary care have skyrocketed in the last few years with companies including Babylon, LIVI and Push Doctor dominating the market.

The introduction of these companies prompted NHS England to launch a consultation to review funding inequalities between local GP practices and digital first providers, while also addressing high patient churn associated with digital services.

NHS England’s board voted to amend out-of-area patient registration rules at its meeting on 26 September as a result of the consultation.

Digital-first providers will have to set up a new alternative provider medical services (APMS) once they reach a threshold of 1,000 out-of-area patients.

Paul Bate, Babylon’s managing director of NHS services, told Digital Health News setting up new APMS would be a “significant undertaking” for both providers and commissioners, but that the consultation digital-first primary care was now “firmly on the map” and a “primary fixture” for the NHS for years to come.

Digital solutions also offer a solution to increasing demand on GPs, the chair of the Digital Healthcare Council, Graham Kendall, has previously said.

Simply “peddaling faster” to keep up with demand is unsustainable, he said in response to statistics that found the average wait for a routine GP appointment has surpassed two weeks for the first time.

Instead he suggested future policies need to encourage the adoption of digital solutions to ease patient demand.