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BACKGROUND: Access to GP appointments is increasingly challenging in many high-income countries, with an overstretched workforce and rising demand. Various access systems have been developed and evaluated internationally. AIM: We aimed to systematically consolidate the current international evidence base related to different types of GP access systems. DESIGN AND SETTING: A scoping review examining international literature. METHOD: Literature searches were run across relevant databases in May 2022. Title, abstract and full text screenings were carried out. Data from included studies were extracted and mapped to synthesise the components and aims within different GP access systems. RESULTS: 49 studies were included in the review. The majority of these were set in the UK. Some access systems featured heavily in the literature, such as Advanced Access, telephone triage and online consultations, and others less so. There were two key strategies adopted by systems which related to either changing appointment capacity or modifying patient pathways. Components related to these strategies are summarised and illustrated as a schematic representation. Most rationales behind access systems were practice, rather than patient, focused. 'Add on' systems and aims for efficiency became more popular in recent years. CONCLUSION: The synthesis provides a useful tool in understanding access systems' aims, design, and implementation. With focus on alleviating demand, patient-focused outcomes appear to be under investigated and potentially overlooked during design and implementation. More recently, digital services are promoted as offering patient choice and convenience. But a context where demand outweighs resources challenges the premise that extending choice is possible.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Gen Pract

Publication Date



Appointments and Schedules, general practice, primary health care