More than 56,000 people booked appointments on-line at their GP practice last month with one in seven practices now able to offer the service.

Figures from Egton Medical Information Systems, which provides the clinical IT service at over half of England's 10,300 practices, show that 1,391 of these are now using their EMIS Access software, which allows patients to book an appointment over the internet.

In addition to the number who booked their own appointments, more than 10,000 patients cancelled appointments online and over 90,000 requested repeat prescriptions.

According to EMIS, GPs are reporting a number of benefits from the system, including fewer missed appointments. Patients like being able to book whenever they want to - including on Christmas Day.
EMIS Access system works via EMIS LV5.2 or PCS. Practice managers make bookable appointments and clinicians visible online. Patients then register to use the service and create a password through the practice web page or via www.patient.co.uk.

Dr Prakash Kakoty, partner at the Kakoty Practice in Barnsley, said: "The service has opened up 24-hour appointment booking - a real bonus for working patients."

Patients had not abused the system as he had feared they might, he said. "We have found that empowering patients to book their own appointments has actually encouraged more responsible behaviour."

For example, people were more likely to cancel an appointment rather than simply not turn up.

He added: "We have also noticed significant benefits for the practice, as reception queues have been reduced and appointment booking online has freed up more time for patients wishing to book over the phone. Receptionists can also spend time on other roles such as practice administration and prescription management."