Top tips on online consulting


Online consultations (OCs) can give patients a chance to discuss their concerns in a more flexible, convenient way than face-to-face appointments. They’re also a good opportunity for healthcare professionals to assess a patient’s needs more quickly and ask them to come into the practice should further investigation be required. It’s a tool that’s proven essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PDUK team has put together these top tips to help clinicians carry out OCs effectively. There’s also our Remote Consultation for Primary Care Practitioners course which we’ll look at in more detail later.

Tip #1. Aim to respond promptly

It’s important that when a patient submits a clinical request it is acknowledged quickly, ideally within two hours or certainly within the day. Otherwise, the patient may worry that their request wasn’t received or has been forgotten. Such promptness also helps identify urgent cases more quickly and offer a better service. Some forms allow practices to communicate bespoke response times for different types of queries. Above all, make sure expectations are feasible and meet safe clinical thresholds.

Tip #2. Loads of requests coming in? Don’t panic!

Be methodical and use instant messaging where possible. If a face-to-face appointment is needed, consider whether it will change the intervention – discuss dilemmas with colleagues and make decisions collectively. Give a planned time for video or phone consultations, and make sure you’re in a quiet, private room with no background distractions. You will also be able to save time by:

  • Summarising to the patient their concern as you understand it, and clarifying specifics
  • Arranging next steps remotely, if possible
  • Asking patients to follow up with you via an online or remote consultation
  • Keeping the rest of the call very brief if it soon becomes apparent that a face-to-face appointment is necessary
  • Following up with a short summary of key points via an email

Tip #3. Communicate effectively

For example, if you intend to send a patient clinical information by text message, ask them if it’s okay for you to do so. However, don’t use this method for sensitive or urgent issues. Also, in any written message, think about your wording and how it might be interpreted. Ask yourself if you would be happy with the response.

The next thing is, avoid jargon or acronyms and keep your sentences short and to the point. Provide a graphical guide or online video demonstration where needed and offer technical help too. Your patient should feel just as supported and listened to as if you were talking to them face-to-face.

Tip #4. Pass the online consultation to the patient’s regular clinician

If the patient’s issue is not urgent, try to pass it on to their usual clinician. If they later need a further consultation, pass it on to the clinician who dealt with the online consultation originally.

Tip #5. Look for the quick wins

Whenever you send a message to a patient, or discuss something online, advise them where they can get additional help on the NHS website for example. You can use some pre-set messages or a link to a few FAQs. Anything that means patients can ‘self-serve’ and gain further support themselves is well worth considering.

Tip #6. Don’t put things off

If a patient is waiting to be contacted, try hard to do so in the current session rather than having a lot of appointment requests hanging around that you’ll need to deal with later. Where you can, use any quieter times in the day to catch up – often mornings are busier than late afternoon. It’s not always easy to do this, but a bit of planning can go a long way.

Are you getting the best out of online consulting?

It’s a skill that’s well worth honing, for both your patients and yourself. So if you could do with extra support in facilitating online consultations, why not sign up for PDUK’s Remote Consultation for Primary Care Practitioners course. Offered via Zoom, it’s a great opportunity to gain an important 16 hours of CPD over two days whilst working remotely.

This convenient and engaging course is aimed specifically at any community/primary care health care professional that is relatively new to conducting virtual consultations either on the telephone or video. It looks at how to deal with the risks, as well as exploring common patient presentations and competent practice. Furthermore, you’ll get the chance to join in with interactive group activities and ask any questions along the way.

We’re seeing plenty of interest though so make sure you book up early to avoid disappointment!