The patient's experience within the GP surgery begins long before they see the doctor.
Facilities such as scheduling appointments, accessibility and technology are highly valued by patients.
Good facilities can impact positively on patients' experience of having their needs met - for instance, high-quality waiting room design can reduce the perception of waiting times. An added benefit of good surgery design is enhanced staff morale and increased productivity.
We carried out a study* of GP patients to explore their needs in terms of GP surgery facilities. It concentrated on three areas - availability of technology, reception/appointments and waiting area facilities.
Two of the practices surveyed were single-handed and two were multi-doctor practices. Two were rural, one was urban and one was mixed urban and rural. There were 437 responses from patients.
A large majority of patients (76%) deemed it important that credit/laser card facilities were available for payment on site. Over half (67%) would like their GP surgery have a practice webpage.
Half (50%), replied that a text message reminder system for appointments was important, whereas over a third (36%) would like to have online booking of appointments available.
A key finding was that the overwhelming majority of respondents wanted appointments to be available outside normal working hours (80%), with only 5% deeming this unimportant. Being informed of a delay in seeing the doctor was also important to the majority of respondents (86%).
A surgery design which ensured privacy at the reception desk was seen as important by 77%.
A clean, well heated surgery, with adequate car parking, wheelchair accessible bathrooms and a spacious waiting room was deemed important or extremely important by the majority of respondents. Other facilities such as having a modern building and availability of up to date magazines were deemed less important.
Other practice facilities deemed important or extremely important by most patients surveyed included comfortable seating; the availability of a children's play area; adequate car-parking; wheelchair accessible bathroom; baby-changing facilities; and clean and well-heated surgery premises.
Society is changing and as patient expectations evolve it is important to consider the needs of our patients to enhance patients experience within the practice.
This study indicates that patients' expectations of GP surgery facilities are keeping in line with recent advances in technology.
Patients want to be able to browse the website of their general practice, make appointments online and attend for their appointments outside of normal hours. Debit card payment is now the norm for many people and increasingly patients expect this facility as standard from their GP.
General practice is coming under increasing financial strain from the recession. Creating a patient friendly practice attracts patients and is good for GPs' business.
It should also be borne in mind that patients in general practice are not a homogeneous group and surgery design and facilities must reflect the needs of varied population groups.
*The study was carried out by GP registrars with the Western Training Programme, Galway - Deborah Buckley; Conall MacConmara ; Aisling Hillick ; Anna Linnane, Catherine O'Mahony; and Maureen Kelly (Assistant Programme Director with the Western Training Programme, NUIG)
Special thanks to the Programme Directing Team of the Western Training Programme and to individual GP trainers.
This article appeared recently in Forum, the journal of the Irish College of General Practitioenrs, published by MedMedia.
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