As the healthcare landscape evolves, it is becoming clearer that digital technologies are increasingly crucial to improving patient outcomes, efficiency and access to services. But which are the most important? Explore our latest blog, where we discuss digital priorities for improving primary care in 2023.
Primary care provided by the NHS plays a pivotal role in providing essential healthcare services. To optimise these, digital priorities need to include better interoperability, improved patient services and access, upgraded core systems and expanded back office and coordination tools.
Interoperability: Advancing Integrated Healthcare
Interoperability can be defined as a seamless exchange of data between different systems and healthcare providers, ensuring that patient information is readily available and accessible when needed.
In the context of UK primary care, interoperability plays a growing role in advancing integrated healthcare, enhancing care coordination and optimising patient safety.
Patient data needs to be integrated across various primary care practices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities to enable a comprehensive understanding of patients’ medical histories and ongoing treatments.
With this in place there is a better chance at a holistic approach to healthcare delivery, reducing redundant tests and improving patient outcomes.
Interoperability working at its best facilitates efficient communication between primary care providers and specialists, enabling timely consultations and coordinated care plans.
This, in turn, reduces the risk of medical errors, streamlines referrals and ensures patients receive the right care at the right time.
When it comes to medication management, if interoperable systems can enable real-time access to patients’ medication histories, allowing primary care practitioners to avoid potential drug interactions or adverse reactions, this will promote medication safety.
Patient Services and Access: Empowering Patients in their Healthcare
Empowering patients and promoting active involvement in their healthcare journey is a crucial aspect of modern primary care. Digital solutions can significantly enhance citizen services and access, enabling patients to manage their health effectively and access care whenever required.
If patients can be provided with secure and user-friendly online access, such as through our Foundation sites, GP practices can offer convenient access to medical records, lab results, appointment scheduling and prescription refills.
Together with the NHS App, dedicated websites for surgeries can promote transparency and facilitate two-way communication with patients.
The ability to use phone or video consultations can be a way of offering patients greater accessibility, especially those living in remote or underserved areas.
It also reduces the burden on physical facilities, easing the strain on resources. It was the drive to reduce the pressure on practice receptions which was an inspiration in the creation of Silicon Practice’s FootFall sites, now in use at hundreds of practices across the UK.
Foundation builds upon the success of FootFall, overwhelmingly meeting new benchmarks* laid down by the NHS, which is seeking to make surgeries’ websites increasingly user-friendly. This extends to consistency in appearance and functionality.
Another aspect are health apps and wearable devices. As these become more widely adopted, patients can monitor their health metrics in real time and share the data with their primary care providers.
Increased use of data can lead to early detection of health issues and the more preventive measures can be implemented, the more the NHS can save on costly treatments.
Upgrading and Improving Core Systems: Future-proofing Primary Care
To harness the full potential of digitalisation, UK primary care needs to focus on upgrading and improving core systems that form the backbone of healthcare operations.
As increasing patient confidence in security is a key part of improving uptake, the NHS will continue to ramp up cybersecurity measures in tandem with data privacy protection legislation.
Cyber attacks – often ‘ransomware’ incidents where gangs or individuals hijack parts of the system – are an ongoing danger.
In May 2021, hospitals in Ireland lost access to records because of a cyber attack. There was a major disruption to services, and some medical equipment was put out of action. It took until September of that year to get 95% of servers and devices functioning normally again.
Improving the security of devices and personnel is a never-ending process. Imperial College London’s Cyber Report 2020 stated that outdated and unsupported IT infrastructures and medical devices increase NHS vulnerabilities.
Among core systems that have to be protected and upgraded are electronic health records (EHRs), practice management software and clinical decision support tools:
- Electronic Health Records (EHRs): Transitioning from paper-based records to EHRs streamlines data capture, storage and retrieval, enabling quick access to patient information. EHRs enhance clinical decision-making, reduce administrative burdens, and improve patient safety by reducing errors related to handwritten records.
- Practice Management Software: Efficient practice management software automates administrative tasks such as appointment scheduling and inventory management. Time and resources saved can be allocated to patient care.
- Clinical Decision Support Tools: Implementing clinical decision support systems assists healthcare providers in making evidence-based decisions at the point of care as soon as possible. These tools can provide alerts for potential drug interactions, highlight best practices, and recommend appropriate screenings, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes.
Back Office and Coordination Tools
While patient-facing services are essential, streamlining back-office operations and coordination among healthcare teams are equally crucial in achieving efficient and effective primary care services.
- Data analytics tools allow primary care providers to derive valuable insights from patient data, enabling evidence-based decision-making, identifying trends, and predicting patient needs. Analytics can drive quality improvement initiatives and enhance population health management.
- Implementing appointment management systems with automated reminders and waitlist management reduces no-show rates and optimises clinic schedules, leading to better resource utilisation and improved patient satisfaction.
- Care Team Collaboration Platforms are vital for seamless care delivery. Utilising dedicated platforms for care coordination allows healthcare professionals to share information, discuss cases and coordinate patient care efficiently.
By prioritising interoperability, patient services and access, core system upgrades, and back office and coordination tools, primary care can deliver better outcomes, increased efficiency and improved patient experiences to the UK population.
One of the first things a practice can do is have a Foundation site, expected to achieve a 98% rating of the top NHS benchmark at launch. Contact us to find out about Foundation.
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*Foundation sites are expected to achieve a 98% rating of the top NHS benchmark at launch
Written by Bruno Clements