The NHS Long Term Plan rightly puts GPs and primary care front and centre of its strategy for the future of healthcare provision, says Karen Livingstone, national director, SBRI Healthcare. The objective is to boost out-of-hospital care and ensure enhanced patient engagement through greater integration of primary and community health services.
People see tech innovations as the great hope for rescuing primary care, but can tech really deliver the benefits we expect?
The emphasis on primary care is certainly needed; however, in practical terms, GP surgeries up and down the country are already being stretched to near breaking-point. The links between rising GP workloads and plummeting morale are well-documented; as a leading innovation team, we have to ask, is it realistic to expect GPs to take on an expanded role under the current circumstances, and how can we help them to grow their services while managing workloads?
If GPs cannot work any harder, the answer must, therefore, lie in identifying ways to help GPs work differently – and, naturally, thoughts turn to technology. However, for every tech idea that makes it into GP surgeries, there are many more that fall by the wayside, often failing due to inadequate analysis of the practical considerations of bringing a new product to the primary care market.
Truly game-changing tech solutions need to be rigorously thought out in economic terms. Will the innovation be affordable to surgeries, both immediately and throughout the life of the product? Will it be acceptable to patients, their families and healthcare workers? How will any solution impact on clinical care pathways? What extra training for GPs and non-GP staff might be needed for this innovation to be delivered? Of course, funding to support product development and testing is also necessary but, if economic practicalities are skirted over, the chances of a new innovation being adopted fall dramatically.
There are, thankfully, innovators who are rising to this challenge and tackling it properly. Solutions such as myMhealth and Active8rlives, for instance, have successfully delivered tools based on smart-tech platforms combined with wearables or apps. Both have neatly married the intuitive nature of smart devices, which appeals to patients, with the provision of accurate data supporting enhanced patient engagement. This ensures better preventative and ongoing treatment, more effective use of GP resources and, importantly, personalised care and a greater degree of control for patients.
With talented medtech innovators continuing to come forward, GPs should take heart that more and more solutions that will ease pressures on their practices are not too far away.