Acute care and essential screening

Updated 24 January 2022

Acute care is a critical element of general practice, and we must ensure that this area is managed in an efficient manner. It is essential we keep access freed up for vulnerable patients.

With the advent of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, acute care will take on a larger amount of our workflow and indeed may have to be the primary focus of the practice activity as cases increase. It also needs to be recognised that not all acute presentations will be COVID-19 related and this will put an additional burden on the practice.

We need to remember that even a small reduction in acute care by general practice will result in extra burden on out hospital services.

Acute care will present in a number of ways:

Walk in patients

For many surgeries this may be a common occurrence, which will potentially increase with Omicron.

All practices should have an agreed process for triaging and managing these patients and should include:

  • Clear signage explaining what the triage process is.
  • Staff who can respond in a safe manner who should be, either with social distancing and screens or with “red stream” PPE.
  • Triage staff should have clear protocols as to assessment and management of these patients.

Many of these patients will require a face-to-face consultation and each practice must have a clear protocol for managing this situation.  

Phone calls

It is inevitable that there will be an increase in phone calls into the practice, particularly regarding COVID-19 management. This will be driven by acute need or potential anxiety over COVID-19. It is important that staff answering these calls have clear instructions as to what to ask and how to respond.  These calls need to be carefully documented and a check list in the PMS system may be useful. 

These calls maybe longer than normal and so efficiency in management is essential.  If the number of phone lines is adequate then employing or deploying more staff to the phone lines, and this may include nurses or GPs.  

It is important to give sensible advice while a patient is on hold.  This may well be to offer other forms of communication such as the patient portal. 

Portal communication

General practices have embraced portal usage to varying degrees. The reality is that patients who use them are computer, or at least smart phone, literate, and this includes a reasonably large portion of the community. Making use of this system will mean that those who don’t or can’t use a portal will have less time to wait for a phone call response and indeed suggesting this as a means of communication on your phone message may be useful.

A key advantage of a PM is that messages can easily be sent to the whole database. This means that proactively telling patients what to do if they have a COVID-19 diagnosis can be customised to your practice.

The use of a portal makes repeat prescriptions easy to manage which increases practice efficiency.