A clunky software system and sheer volume of patients are overwhelming health care providers
Inundated with unnecessary visits and struggling with a very user-unfriendly software system, Gesy GPs say they are unable to cope with their workload since the launch of the long-awaited national health care system on June 1.
Authorities say that no Gesy doctor has officially left the system, though some have decided to stop being GPs – trying to deal with up to 2,500 patients – and just offer specialist services.
Reports surfaced this week that the system was being abused by a public eager to take advantage of universal free healthcare by making unnecessary visits to their GPs, or demanding all the medical tests that they could not afford to get done in previous years.
One Gesy GP, Limassol-based Dr Marios Apostolides, said in a Facebook post earlier in the week that he was overwhelmed.
Chaos reigns in private practices cooperating with Gesy, he said, because patients, taking advantage of the free services, have rushed to request blood analyses, MRI and CT scans.
He said he had suggested these tests to his patients in the past but they had not followed his advice “and now they want to do it all in one day”, forcing him to be an executioner of demands instead of a doctor. But he said he had faith the workload would gradually lessen.
Dr Agis Antonopoulos, a Nicosia GP and cardiologist, is not so sure. He told the Sunday Mail that he decided last week to stop practising as a Gesy GP. He cited the impossibility of handling 2,500 patients and shortcomings in the Gesy software system that made his work even more challenging because it is time consuming and not user-friendly.
“It is impossible to serve 2,500 people. I’m buried under mountains of paperwork for prescriptions,” Antonopoulos told the Sunday Mail. He said he would remain in Gesy as a cardiologist.
One “huge mistake” by Gesy, he said, that added to the workload was the message on the Gesy website registration portal telling beneficiaries that after their registration had been accepted by their chosen GP, they should arrange a first visit so their doctor could validate their identification documents and sign relevant paperwork.
“People feared if they did not, they would not be registered in Gesy. They all came to the doctor for something not necessary. That increased the workload,” Antonopoulos said.
So is the system being abused, or is it just the inevitable teething problems associated with such a large-scale social reform?
The Health Insurance Organisation (HIO), which is overseeing the implementation of Gesy, is reluctant to describe the public rush for treatment as blatant abuse of the system.
But senior HIO official, Maria Kythreotou, conceded this week that doctors, clinical labs and pharmacies had been inundated with patients in the three weeks since the Gesy launch.
“Everyone rushed to have their medical and lab tests which they were neglecting in the past and to arrange their drug prescriptions,” said Kythreotou.
She said that for Gesy to run smoothly, proper education and culture is needed both by healthcare providers and by patients.
“It is here to stay and to serve all of us we must treat it right.”
The rush was expected, she said, after all those years without a general heath scheme, but this also meant of a culture of how one acts as a beneficiary of such a system was lacking.
“This situation needs to be gradually rectified,” she said.
HIO’s acting director-general, Athos Tsinontides, said he did not believe the system was being abused.
“There are people who have been waiting for their medicines, to have blood analyses. I don’t believe the increased traffic is considered an abuse of the system,” he told the Sunday Mail.
He added that since the Gesy launch they have modified the original announcement that patients should visit their doctor for an initial consultation just to confirm registration and ID validation.
Tsinontides said they have since told the public there was no need to visit GPs just for that. They could do so when they go consult their doctors for a medical problem.
As for the large number of patient visits, Tsinontides said it was natural for doctors who have registered between 2,000 and 2,500 patients to have increased workload.
“We expect that the situation will improve within a few weeks,” said Tsinontides, but added it was important for everyone to acquire a new culture in relation with Gesy healthcare services.
And what about the hated software system?
“It is a terrible system,” Dr Antonopoulos said, adding he refuses to request analyses for his patients unless necessary.
“It is impossible to order them. It takes from morning till noon to order all the blood tests for one patient and then they all arrive in different folders,” he said.
The doctor said he finds many faults to the electronic system. “It seems they did not consult a doctor before making it.”
“I do support Gesy but it started with shortcomings,” he said.
For Gesy GP Dr Iosif Kasios, the software issue is even more problematic than the large number of patients.
“Most time consumed is on drug prescriptions,” Kasios told the Sunday Mail.
He said the system does not include specific diagnoses so when a physician is trying to find the condition of their patients, “it will give you similar conditions which however do not correspond to scientific criteria.”
He said it was also anachronistic. “There is terminology that has been scratched from bibliography at least 20 years ago,” he said, adding that he noticed no substantive improvement after the software system was updated last week.
As for blood tests, even though there are no delays in getting the results, “you try to find them in the system, you might find them you might not”.
“By the time you find them and read them it is time consuming,” he said adding that each analysis for one patient comes separately instead of all of them in one document.
But he praised the support the doctors were receiving.
“We do have support, they reply immediately when we call them for a problem,” he said.
Kasios said he hoped such glitches in the system would soon improve.
“We must not kill Gesy. We must protect it,” he said.
HIO’s Tsinontides said that it was natural for doctors to experience problems since they have only been using it for around 15 days.
While admitting improvements are needed, Tsinontides said the more the doctors use the system in tandem with the constant updates that will be taking place every 15 days, the better their experience with the system will be.