The best medicine: digital transformation in GP practices

Virginia Choy, chief executive of PretaGov, explores how digital technology can help GP practices deliver process efficiencies and cost savings

Virginia Choy

In this article, PretaGov's Virginia Choy looks at the challenges faced by GPs on a daily basis and how implementing software can help to combat this growing pressure on primary care

The NHS is under pressure from all sides to do more with less.

The ultimate aim is to deliver both process and cost streamlining simultaneously.

Sometimes this can seem like an impossible task. However, digital technologies, which aim to speed up and consolidate existing processes while reducing unwieldy and unnecessary resource, can be the answer.

GP practices are often the first port of call for patients coming into contact with the NHS and, as such, are one of the most-effective points in the entire health infrastructure for introducing digital innovations

GP practices are often the first port of call for patients coming into contact with the NHS and, as such, are one of the most-effective points in the entire health infrastructure for introducing digital innovations.

Here, at the hard edge between NHS and end users, there are two broad opportunities for digital technologies to drive positive change.

Firstly, they can reduce overheads in terms of both time and money.

Secondly, they can speed up and streamline the multiple lines of communication and collaboration that exist between GP practices and other parties.

Let’s take a look at each area in turn.

Reducing overheads

The conversion of manual or paper-based processes into digital and online ones is one of the simplest – yet most impactful – benefits of new technologies in the healthcare sector.

Healthcare organisations, quite rightly, need to collect, store and transmit a large amount of patient information with the highest levels of accuracy and data security, and doing this manually is extremely time-consuming.

Procurement decisions around digital technologies for GP practices should always be taken with a view to flexibility and interoperability with other systems

The challenge is compounded at GP surgeries because they have to continually deal with the registration of new patients.

Some are new additions to the NHS database – births or immigrants. Others are simply existing patients who have relocated. All have to go through a registration process that, until recently, couldn’t be anything other than paper-based.

Such processes are costly, time-consuming and ultimately inconvenient for both patient and surgery to manage.

Yet digital technology can convert those registration processes into simple, low-code online forms, which patients can complete at home and GP administration staff simply needs to sign off.

But GP surgeries don’t need to stop at patient registration when it comes to shifting services online.

What about providing basic health advice via online questionnaires? Or enabling the ordering of repeat prescriptions via online forms?

Many of the more-cumbersome services that GP surgeries need to deliver are, in fact, repetitive tasks that can be converted to digital processes remarkably easily.

In turn, physical resources such as paper, hours spent on administration, and unnecessary consultation slots are all dramatically reduced.

Improving co-ordination

GP surgeries sit at the heart of complex webs of interaction. They are required to collect and disseminate information, not just between patients and other health services such as hospitals, clinics and testing centres; but also between long lists of medicine and equipment suppliers. At all turns, data accuracy and security is vital.

The two aspects of how digital technology can transform GP practices – by reducing overheads and streamlining co-ordination – are at the heart of helping the NHS to remain effective and efficient over the coming years

There are still many areas of co-ordination in which paper is the first port of call.

For example, hospital discharge summaries, follow-ups and test results are still typically sent to GP surgeries in paper form and then manually scanned in.

Needless to say, this is more costly, more time-consuming, and introduces greater possibilities for error than when these processes are digitised.

By making online forms the standard means for communicating with other areas of the health service, GP surgeries can ensure that patient information is transmitted more quickly and accurately and cut down on the amount of time that staff have to spend scanning and consolidating different pieces of information.

Another aspect of co-ordination that GP surgeries have to deal with is their communication with suppliers, particularly IT suppliers.

Many GPs want a single system from a large IT partner to manage all aspects of their digital presence, thinking that a single point of contact will be easier to deal with.

But the volume of disparate and very-different digital tasks that need to be undertaken at a typical GP surgery mean that finding such a single centralised supplier can be very difficult, if not impossible.

For most GPs, it is far more efficient to encourage contracts with multiple IT entities, which each provide part of a larger system. As such, procurement decisions around digital technologies for GP practices should always be taken with a view to flexibility and interoperability with other systems.

Existing electronic patient records, for example, should be able to be smoothly integrated with any new tools and software that are installed.

A two-pronged approach

Many of the more-cumbersome services that GP surgeries need to deliver are, in fact, repetitive tasks that can be converted to digital processes remarkably easily

These two aspects of how digital technology can transform GP practices – by reducing overheads and streamlining co-ordination – are at the heart of helping the NHS to remain effective and efficient over the coming years.

The rise of cloud computing means that such services can be delivered via per-usage or operational expenditure models, meaning there is no need for GPs to fork out huge sums of money on technology investments that take months or years to recuperate.

Instead, the digital era can enable faster processes, reduced complexity – and no more paper!

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