What’s the best way to integrate digital services in GP practices?

The push is on for GP practices to adopt digital services; health secretary Matt Hancock is an advocate and is leading the march. However, there is division over how best to integrate digital services in practice. The team at Doctorlink share some of the differing views on how the NHS should implement new technology

The general practice community is largely divided over the best way to adopt technology in practices; while it’s viewed as a means of delivering new levels of efficiency and enhancing patient care it’s also acknowledged that the right technology needs to be used, and correctly implemented, in order for new technology to be a success. So, what might this look like?

According to a recent survey opinion in the general practice community is largely divided over the best way to adopt technology in GP practices. In a survey of 1,003 GPs 39% said that every practice should use the same NHS digital triaging service; however, a similar number of GPs – 34% – held contrasting views, believing that each practice should be able to choose which service works best for them and a further three per cent believed that all practices should use the same, non-NHS digital triaging service.

Success hangs in the balance

While Matt Hancock is making the digitalisation of the NHS one of his top priorities, the majority of GPs remain cautious about the broad impact of digital services, and 60% of respondents say their impact has been exaggerated – a figure which rises to 70% among the country’s longest-serving GPs.

In addition, GPs are not convinced by the ability of the NHS App, due to launch in December, to help reduce demand on primary care services. In fact, 61% expect that the NHS app, which entered beta testing last week, is likely to actually increase the number of patients wanting to see a GP in person.

Significant doubt exists within the GP community in relation to the NHS’s ability to effectively implement new digital services, with the vast majority (83%) not confident of its ability to do so. Only 14% were confident that the NHS App will launch by the end of the year.

“It’s clear that the views of GPs haven’t always been properly considered when it comes to the integration of digital services into the NHS,” said Andrew Gardner, CEO of Doctorlink. “We acknowledge this and make sure that we develop our services in partnership with, and in service of, the GP community. As an industry, we must do more to address GPs’ valid questions and prove that digital services can help them deliver better outcomes for patients.”

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Are digital services in GP practices important?

The survey found that doctors are also split over the fundamental question of whether digital services are important in improving the quality of primary care, with 52% saying they’re important and 40% thinking that they aren’t. When asked, ‘What is the most significant problem that technology must solve?’ GPs most often named face-to-face appointments as their top priority (33%). This is felt even more acutely in the country’s biggest practices – at 37% among GPs with over 10,000 patients listed in their practice.

A matter of improvement
“Most GPs believe that these services will improve the quality of primary care offered by the NHS, but many of us have important questions when it comes to their implementation,” says Dr Bruce Websdale, a South West London GP. “These findings reinforce the importance of close collaboration between the people developing these services and the people using them on the frontline of the NHS.”

Indeed, GPs were shown by the survey to be strongly united when it comes to the role of clinicians in the design of digital services. Ninety-four per cent say clinician involvement is important in the development of digital services to support the delivery of primary care. There is also very strong awareness of digital GP and triaging services among the majority of GPs; 81% of those taking the survey were aware of the major companies and products that are currently available for delivering digital GP services to the NHS.

Digital is our present – and certainly our future. What’s important is that the GPs and practice staff play a fundamental role in shaping how the technology is integrated.

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