Borderless with benefits: Digital healthcare at a local level

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We take a closer look at the challenges facing general practice at a local level and the evolving role of digital technology.

The continuing transition to care at scale and digitalisation has raised questions regarding its impact on general practice and traditional, local ways of working. Healthcare leaders have spoken of a need to remain cognisant of continuity of care, doctor-patient relationships and personalised approaches.

At Livi, we agree and believe that even as boundaries continue to shift with ICSs becoming more cohesive, the traditional role of general practice serving local communities will need to endure and thrive.

Digital technology can be an enabler, not only supporting practices with clinical provision that knows no borders, but also local ways of working.

Supporting continuity of care and local services

General practice is the bedrock of the NHS and the foundation for larger care systems that are emerging. However, any scaling or boundary-spanning opportunities created by digital services need to ensure they provide a seamless patient experience with local providers interacting every day with patients.

That starts by prioritising continuity of care. We believe where an individual sees a physician from a digital service through their local GP practice, they should see that same physician in a subsequent appointment if they wish to, where possible. This step, while small, can help nurture familiarity and the relationship with the patient.

For practice teams themselves, digital solutions must provide a similar sense of familiarity through connectivity with current technology and pathways. Seamless integration with existing practice clinical systems and the right digital infrastructure to complement local formularies will be vital.

When ‘done well’, digital will enhance rather than complicate existing processes. A practice platform with capabilities for built-in video consultation and batch messaging across channels will help teams better engage with patients across all touchpoints in a given journey.

And as GP surgeries work through existing backlogs and grapple with rising demand, such solutions will help remove administrative burden, freeing up capacity with practice teams and clinicians.

Borderless provision for regions that need it

Indeed, the borderless nature of digital has the potential to supply a locality with immediate capacity. The ability to easily deploy clinical resource to under-served GP practices is much needed at a critical time for the NHS.

With the recent announcement of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) new campaign to “Rebuild General Practice” came the insight that eight in 10 GPs feel they do not have enough time in consultations with patients. In England alone, GPs are reportedly seeing 45 patients a day, 20 over the BMA’s recommended limit.

Digital solutions can help here. Services may be scaled to meet local demand at peak times, providing ‘floating resource’ to ease the strain. Where demand is anticipated to spike, digital consultations can create a welcome release valve in high pressure regions where physicians are already stretched.

The end result facilitates face-to-face appointments for patients who need them, supported by digital consultations where appropriate. This can also create space for patients who may experience difficulties reaching their practice via phone. While digital front doors include readily available self-management tools that can further reduce volumes.

With this additional provision, practices have the potential to no longer be limited by access to bricks and mortar or ‘shop hours’. The offering of extended or improved access, once a commissioning challenge and wildly varied in application and by postcode, becomes a simpler task.

This has far-reaching positive impacts for the wider health system such as reduction in A&E visits that increased primary care access creates.

Limitless potential

When boundaries, borders and barriers are removed, digital is practically limitless in its potential to support local services. These solutions offer an opportunity for greater collaboration and communication within practices, across the health system and with patients.

Digital technology will not replace traditional face-to-face appointments. Instead, digital simply delivers welcome support at a time when demand greatly outstrips supply for many local GP surgeries. Ultimately, that support can help practices better serve the needs of patients.