Online era presents benefits and issues for GPs

Monday , 23 April 2018 by Jo Lawrence-King

Research by Southern Cross Health Society reveals that, while GPs recognise the advantages some online and digital tools can provide to their practice, they have concerns about the implications of patients accessing medical information online.

In qualitative interviews, participants report a growing trend of patients arriving with a view about the treatment they need, having conducted online research at home. GPs are concerned by the unreliability of some sources of wellness information and are shocked by the lack of basic health knowledge among some of their patients.

Southern Cross Health Society’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Stephen Child agrees. “Unfortunately the information found on the internet is not always reliable or accurate. Explaining that to patients may well be adding to GPs’ workload,” he says. “On the other hand, clinically robust information from reputable, credible sources, can help patients have informed conversations with their practitioner.”

Dr Child adds that, as the profession goes increasingly digital, primary practice will face new challenges such as the potential for misinterpretation and anxiety when patients access their test results and medical records directly via online portals.

According to the survey benefits of the digital age include quick communication, referral and booking systems. Ninety-one per cent of GPs use text to communicate with their patients, 88 per cent give e-referrals to specialists and 53 per cent offer patients an online booking system for appointments.

Just 19 per cent of those surveyed said they are happy to give patients e-prescriptions, however, and GPs had mixed feelings about consulting via technology. Consultations via phone is considered the most acceptable (at 53 per cent), while e-mail has low uptake (at 32 per cent) and video consultation is the least popular (at 5 per cent).

In March Southern Cross Health Society became a sponsor of the Council of Medical Colleges’ Choosing Wisely campaign, aimed at supporting well-informed conversations between health professionals and patients to achieve better decisions and outcomes.

“The internet is now the dominant source of information for most of us. The GP’s role is key in helping a patient navigate what can be a complex landscape,” explains Dr Child. “Southern Cross Health Society is committed to providing quality, accurate and accessible information about common medical conditions and to support informed conversations between patients and their doctors.”


The Southern Cross online medical library offers medically-reviewed information pages on a range of common ailments. The library received more than two million visits in 2017.

About the research: Kantar TNS New Zealand conducted 141 online surveys and held 20 qualitative interviews (face to face and phone) between October and November 2017 on behalf of Southern Cross Health Society.