An online version of the NHS 111 service is being trialled in east and west Suffolk as part of a study into how technology can improve patient access to non-emergency healthcare.
The trial, which began on 6th March and will run for 10 weeks, directs patients to the new 111 Online service through messages on the existing NHS 111 telephone helpline and in A&E departments, GP surgeries and pharmacies.
The data gathered and feedback received from patients will be used to help shape future services, educate people on when it is appropriate to self-care and decide whether or not 111 Online is installed as a permanent service.
111 Online utilises advanced clinical algorithms to guide patients through a series of questions which allows the app to direct them to the most appropriate support based on the answers they give.
This includes advice on GP appointment booking, links to detailed healthcare information on the NHS Choices website and further information about patient services in the region.
The online triage process is also linked in to the existing NHS 111 service in Suffolk. If it identifies that a patient needs to speak with a healthcare professional in person they are immediately placed into a dedicated queue and will quickly receive a call back to discuss their needs in more detail.
Appropriate referrals to the nearest healthcare service, including Suffolk’s out-of-hours medical services, can then be made by specialist advisors.
A number of organisations across the county have been helping to test the new service, including the University of Suffolk, West Suffolk College, Healthwatch Suffolk, NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s Community Engagement Partnership and NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group’s Community Engagement Group.
Dr Ed Garratt, Chief Officer of the NHS West Suffolk and Ipswich and East Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, said: “We want to take advantage of the fact that more and more people are using smartphones to access online services so that people who are unsure of where to find the best advice can access trusted medical guidance.
“For some people 111 Online represents the quickest and most convenient way to do this. Patient safety and quality are, of course, our top priorities, but offering patient’s choice is also important and we believe 111 Online will help us do that.”
The NHS 111 service in Suffolk is provided by Care UK, which also runs the county’s GP and dental out of hours services.
Amanda Carey-McDermott, Care UK’s New Services director, said: “We want to offer the best patient experience, whether that’s through the 111 helpline or by utilising specialist technology to meet the growing demand for online access to trusted healthcare.
“The focus of this pilot is to gather as much data as possible on the behaviour of patients using the app so that, in partnership with the CCG, we can continue to innovate and guide people to the most appropriate advice or local service that meets their needs.”
111 Online is being trialled across the NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and NHS West Suffolk CCG localities, which encompass 65 GP practices, and the county’s acute providers – Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust and West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. The technology behind 111 Online is provided by healthcare applications specialist Expert-24.