GPs are being encouraged to recommend remote messaging services such as Docly to their patients to avoid face-to-face contact unless absolutely necessary, therefore reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission, writes Dr Caroline Pilot

Covid-19 presents an immediate and pressing challenge to the NHS. Many GP practices are straining to deliver services because of illness; due to two-week self-isolation because of exposure to suspected coronavirus cases; and because of the need for high-risk groups of healthcare professionals to social distance, meaning they cannot continue to work in the usual way.

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As the pandemic continues – creating pressure on both demand and supply across healthcare provision – the strain on NHS frontline services will continue to dramatically increase. There are positives to be gained from the situation, however. The move to online consultations in recent weeks has shown that fast and scalable solutions are available and can help to ease the strain on GP practices.

Digital healthcare is a quick way to ease the burden on primary care safely. In line with government advice, GPs are being encouraged to recommend remote messaging services such as Docly to their patients. The aim is that patients and clinicians avoid face-to-face contact unless absolutely necessary, therefore reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Digital healthcare

At Docly, we are geared up and ready to help the NHS and GP practices with this unprecedented surge in demand during the outbreak. We are already working with a number of practices free of charge in London to increase their capacity to serve patients across the capital, which has experienced particular pressure from covid-19, and we’re keen to extend this offer to any practice across the country quickly and safely. It is vital that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our primary care colleagues and give them the support they need at this most challenging time.

Last week we partnered with the Dr Knight and Dr Ashar Surgery in Stratford, East London, to roll out our remote GP service to its 10,000 patients within just 48 hours. Five thousand patients at the Project Surgery in Plaistow are also benefitting from access to Docly’s GP messaging service. The digital healthcare solution has helped the practice continue to serve the community during the pandemic even while practice staff were self-isolating.

Now, over 15,000 Newham residents can benefit from our text-based GP consultation service, 73 percent of whom are of BAME origin – a group more likely to experience disproportionately severe symptoms of coronavirus, according to recent research.

Docly is able to treat many patients and avoid the need to triage them elsewhere, thereby reducing pressure on services such as 111. Docly provides text-based, asynchronous consultations that can offer significant efficiency gains over face-to-face or video interactions, which take place in real-time. Asynchronous consultations allow clinicians to manage more patient interactions at the same time, as they can carry out multiple sessions simultaneously. A 2019 UK study by Healthwatch Enfield also reported a greater preference by patients for message-based communication between themselves and a clinician than by any other means.

Patients can access care in their own time – avoiding disruption to their day and removing the risk of missing a pre-booked appointment. Our text-based platform also allows patients to get the care and advice they need in complete privacy, without having to worry about finding a suitable location for a potentially sensitive video call – something that can prove difficult when families, partners, friends and housemates are confined together at home.

In March, when the UK first went into lockdown because of covid-19, we saw a 103 per cent increase in registrations compared to the previous week. Since then we have averaged between 13 to 18 percent of clinical on-the-day demand digitally across our practices for both complex and non-complex cases.

Around 20 percent of the eligible patient population in our practice areas is using Docly to access primary care, which means that the capacity of GPs to look after those patients that do need face-to-face care has risen significantly.

Docly is free to all NHS patients registered with a GP surgery partnered with us, and we work closely with GP surgeries to deliver services to patients in the same way they always have – be that by arranging tests, organising referrals or issuing prescriptions.

Patients registered at participating GP practices can download the Docly app from the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play (Android) or visit