A new communication system hosted on N3 will go live in the East of England in the next fortnight.
Confer is an online tool that will enable GPs to liaise with a consultant if they have queries about a patient.
It has been developed over the past year by Shane Gordon, associate medical director of NHS East of England, in collaboration with Cloud2.
Dr Gordon told eHealth Insider that GPs sending patients to hospital for advice from a specialist was like “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
“If a GP is not certain whether a patient needs to be referred or admitted, currently the only option is to send them on to the hospital.
"For patients who turn out not to have a serious condition, or don’t need to be there, the process can be quite distressing and even frightening.”
Confer allows GPs to log-on and instantly request advice from a consultant who is also logged-on.
This communication options include instant messaging, emailing, requests for phone consultations and scheduling future ‘confers’.
Dr Gordon brought the idea to the UK after seeing a similar system in the US.
“There were several GPs on the trip and we all looked at each other at the same time and said ‘wouldn’t that be fantastic if we could get that information from consultants.’
"We all agreed it would make our lives considerably more productive.”
Dr Gordon said preparations for go-live have been under way since February. A proof of concept pilot is set to run until October.
More than 400 clinicians are currently registered to use the system. More than three quarters of them are GPs within the NHS East of England area.
The rest are consultants in Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn and Colchester General Hospital.
Allan Harkness, a consultant cardiologist at Colchester General Hospital, has been taking part in the initial phase of the study.
He said knowledge and enthusiasm is gradually increasing. “I guess GPs have varying levels of IT skills, but slowly it’s building up and they are recognising what the system can do for them.”
Development of the system has been paid for by NHS East of England. However, with another round of NHS reorganisation under way, there are questions about where future funding will come from.
“Once we’ve proved that the concept works, then we are going to have to look for a sustainable model by which we can provide the service," Dr Gordon said. "We’ve got a number of options that are open to us at the moment."
© 2011 EHealth Media.
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