Why simple and convenient access to primary care through technology is a good thing

myGP™ by iPLATO has been the most downloaded medical app in the UK for most of October. Following the success of this new smartphone app we are now beginning to understand the enormous appetite from patients to book and cancel healthcare appointments on the phone.

But we must broaden our perspective to address the real issues of the NHS.

In the last 5 years, the number of GP consultations has increased by 23% while the number of full-time GPs has flatlined. Furthermore, in the last two years, the time between a patient booking a GP appointment and attending it has increased from 13 in average to 17 days.

Considering the significant increases in workload and glaring signs that primary care is creaking at its seams, is it sensible for GP surgeries to make it even more convenient for patients to access services? The answer is yes, but the roll out of patient-facing services will fail to deliver benefits at the required scale unless it is accompanied by a long overdue rethink of how primary care is delivered in the UK.

Rapid increase in demand for healthcare services is not only confined to GPs. While GPs are sweating to keep up, A&Es are falling further and further behind on their 4-hour target and the waiting times for treatments is going up. Through a combination of financial pressure and increasing demand, the NHS is facing the biggest challenge in a generation.

Healthcare is late to the digital party. Today, less than 5% of primary care transactions such as appointment bookings are digital, whilst almost 50% of consumer banking transactions and 80% of travel bookings are online. We have a steep mountain to climb and it is getting steeper.  Change is inevitable and the winners will be those who choose to lead rather than follow.

Research suggests that one-third of patients going to A&E could be treated by a GP. Improved access to primary care can address the problems in secondary care. A great user experience for accessing GP services on the phone can address the access issue but it will not transform availability of appointments and true access to diagnosis and treatment.

GP surgeries, commissioners and suppliers of digital patient-facing services must expand our focus to developing tools to safely triage, signpost and stratify risk and interventions.

From the perspective of doctors and nurses working or considering a career in primary care, the good news is that the need for generalist expertise is likely to grow. Digitalisation of some services also offers unparalleled innovation opportunities for clinicians, so it seems unlikely that the profession will suffer from an accelerated adoption of new tools and processes.

So, let’s get on with it.

This is a guest article by Tobias Alpsten , CEO of Health Tech Specialist iPLATO.

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