How to streamline NHS GP practices

While there is no panacea that can offset the pressure GP practices are currently under there are ways and resources available to streamline practice management. Jason Zemmel, executive chairman of Integral Medical Holdings (IMH) Group – a network which provides administrative support to primary care sites across the UK – discusses some of the solutions they are employing in the practices they work with

The NHS is at breaking point. In England alone, the service processes over one million patients every 36 hours – a figure which is set to grow as improved standards of living and healthcare leads to increases in an ageing population. While many headlines have focused on overburdened A&E departments – which have seen a record number of admissions this year – there are issues throughout the entire network, not least at primary care level.

NHS GP practices – particularly those in more rural areas across the UK – have long operated a silo model, following individual processes that are both outdated and prone to duplication. However, as outlined in the GP Forward View, if we are to respond to the demands of an ever-more stretched NHS, moving forward, it will be vital to streamline and improve these procedures. This will allow primary care services to come together, at scale, in order to have a sustainable future.

But how do we go about consolidating these practice processes? Let’s consider some key ways to transform primary care in the UK NHS.

Leveraging technology

Much as it has done in other sectors – such as transport, retail and manufacturing, to name a few – technology is in a powerful position to alleviate resourcing pressures and streamline healthcare processes. There is an absolute requirement to provide a 21st century solution to primary care in the NHS.

Whilst the service is starting to recognise the importance of technology – the government’s recent £487m funding boost has certainly shown that we are moving in the right direction – we still have a long way to go to ensure that the NHS keeps pace with the complex, changing demands of patients in today’s digitalised society.

Digitising administrative processes has the greatest potential to make an immediate, tangible difference to daily patient care, but the approach must be multifaceted; for example, the widespread implementation of video-conference appointments – something that we recently introduced as a pilot programme across several of our practices – and investment in patient-focused apps that increase focus on ‘self-care’.

We must also prioritise the upgrade and consolidation of current systems to ensure enhanced communication between sectors, as well as better maintenance of patient records. Moreover, in the wake of last year’s extensive data hack, it’s vital that funds are used to improve IT infrastructure and offer more robust contingency plans when equipment or software fails.

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Embracing external clinical leadership

The majority of frustrations that we hear from GPs are that they are constantly weighed down by administrative tasks, leading to a reduction in the availability of their time for patient treatment.

For many practices these processes – from appointment booking to repeat prescriptions and recording of data – have been carried out in the same way for decades; indeed, the recent news that many NHS Trusts still rely heavily on fax machines was worryingly representative of many practices we have worked with. It’s clearly time to drastically improve the way that primary care practices operate.

By coming together collectively, and at scale under a clinical leadership structure, there is a huge opportunity for primary care to be streamlined and made more productive. For example, we have recently implemented a new plan to transform primary care services in Swindon, enabling us to deliver exceptional and sustainable care for the 53,000 patients in the area. The project, which involves five – previously separately run – GP practices, has established a central administration hub to streamline the roles and responsibilities of each practice and free-up capacity in the system to offer to patients.

Taking away this administrative burden is already having a transformative effect on the entire landscape of primary care in Swindon by ensuring easier access to appointments and standardised and improved patient outcomes.

This way forward

Overall, primary care across the UK is in desperate need of transformation. Whilst positive steps forward are certainly being taken, there is still much to do. In order to stay ahead of the huge demands being placed on the service, we must use the technology and administrative expertise at our disposal to future-proof the NHS, or risk it falling into greater disrepair.

 About Integral Medical Holdings (IMH) Group

IMH Group is a network of primary care sites across the UK whose aim is to help the NHS to deliver its 5-year plan. It is a clinically led group of over 45 sites, including GP practices, walk-in centres and urgent care centres. The group offers partnership and premises solutions to GP partners who are looking for support or looking to retire.

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