Online consultations

As part of the GP Forward View, NHS England has allocated a £45 million fund over three years to support the implementation of online consultation systems in general practice. Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP) has been working with the North West London Collaboration of CCGs to support this initiative in North West London (NWL).

The overall objectives for the Online Consultations project are:

  • To support NWL practices to mature digitally and to develop a digital offer for their patients, in line with national guidelines and the NWL digital strategy
  • To provide as many patients as possible with the facility to conduct a clinical consultation with their GP practice on-line
  • To make better use of capacity and improve workload in general practice
  • To support transformation of primary care to adopt new ways of providing services whilst using technology as an enabler to improve the offer for patients.

There is very little evidence around what patients and the public think about online consultations and the opportunity to access primary care in this way, yet understanding these perceptions is key to successful implementation.

As such, the decision was taken to commission research with patients and the public across North West London (NWL) explore how, from patients’ perspectives, the potential of online consultations might best be used to improve their experience of primary care.

The intervention

Engaging patients to understand their digital abilities

An independent research agency – CurvedThinking – was commissioned to meet the following objectives:

  • To investigate the extent to which the different elements of the overall interaction between patient and practice are perceived as being suitable for online delivery and, to the extent that they are, how this might best be done
  • To understand what are, from the patient perspective, the key characteristics of an appealing and accessible online primary care offer and how, in the context of the trade-offs implicit in different models of online delivery, these would be prioritized (to inform procurement)
  • To investigate how patients believe they might integrate online into their current pattern of use of primary care (When? Why? Frequency?)
  • To explore what might motivate patients to engage with an online offer from their own GP and whether there any barriers to them doing so
  • For all the above, to understand how perceptions might vary between different patient groups.

A series of focus groups were run across NWL in February 2018. Participants were representative of the patient population of the area with quotas set on age, ethnicity, life stage and socio-economic group.

The impact

Understanding analysis to create change

The insights gained from this research were extensive which can be viewed in the summary. The findings have been used to inform the development of the pilots being implemented across NWL and have also been used by other systems, including internationally, to inform their work in this space.

The NWL Collaboration of CCGs have also provided a response to patient and public feedback.


If you would like to find out more about this project please email us