Online medical portal gaining traction

02:52, Jan 20 2014

Technology is changing the way Marlborough people interact with their doctors, with many now referring patients to specialists online, and allowing them to book their own appointments.

In July last year, an Electronic Referrals Management System was rolled out in Marlborough, and while not all practices have the technology yet, 2732 requests were made up until December last year.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board communications advisor Katherine Rock said this showed take-up of the system was consistent.

Redwoodtown Doctors' Jim Vause was a driving force behind the technology, and has gone a step further in his surgery - he is advertising an online portal, where patients could book their own appointments and check test results after an appointment.

Both technologies were in their early stages.

Electronic referral systems were "one of those things we should be doing", he said, but the ability of the system to become fully electronic was dependent on the district health board.


Hospitals did not yet have the resources for the system, he said.

"At the moment it's a bit of a hybrid system,' Dr Vause said. GPs send electronic referrals to Christchurch, where they are then faxed to the relevant department of the hospital, he said.

"Certainly long term [the goal is] to make it so we can track the referrals so we make sure it doesn't get lost . . . it's a relatively seamless system," he said.

Buzz Burrell, who is about to open a new practice in Renwick, said electronic referral systems were a "brilliant initiative", which was more efficient than writing and sending referrals by post or fax.

"It hugely reduces transcription error, accuracy is there . . . the more accurate the information going both ways, [between the doctor and specialist], the better we can do our job," he said.

"The only downfall is . . . in days gone by, it was actually quite nice to write a very personal letter to a specialist . . . there is a depersonalisation to it, it is a fair price to pay for that, though," he said.

A loss of a personal interaction with patients was something that put Dr Burrell off a potential online consultation process.

Some practices in the North Island had already started using online portals for email consultations between doctors and patients.

"I'm nervous about eConsultations, it excludes so many people," Dr Burrell said.

The elderly, disabled and children, a significant portion of the patient population, would not be able to use electronic consultations.

Dr Vause said the portal at Redwoodtown Doctors had not had a very high pick-up, and despite praise from doctors and patients using the system, he thought there was more to be considered.

He was not yet using the system to conduct online consultations, but to allow patients to book appointments themselves and check test results after an appointment.

In the coming months they would be watching who was using it, and whether it was creating a bigger or smaller workload for practice staff.

"It's a new thing, anything like that takes time to pick up," he said.

The Marlborough Express