Home » Digital Health » COVID-19 will change primary care forever
Digital Health 2021

COVID-19 will change primary care forever

iStock / Getty Images Plus

Charles Lowe

CEO, Digital Health & Care Alliance

The pandemic has ushered in a whole new way in which GPs in local practices can manage and treat patients remotely – and it’s come much quicker than we were expecting.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, GP practices with fixed in-person appointment schedules really struggled. Those that used what the NHS refers to as “total triage”, where the patient explains their health problem by phone or online and the doctor decides how best to treat it, coped far better.

Some virtual systems such as askmyGP have reduced waiting time from three weeks in some practices to less than 30 minutes. At the same time, they freed up GP time to care for people who are vulnerable, need extra care, or do not like using electronic devices. Most of the total triage “appointments” end up as brief phone calls or text messages.

Easier access to medicines and apps

After the consultation, how do we then treat patients staying at home? For prescription fulfilment, online pharmacies can receive them electronically and send out the medicines by first class post.

They freed up GP time to care for people who are vulnerable, need extra care, or do not like using electronic devices

In addition to medicines, in surgeries using Egton Medical Information Systems (EMIS) technology, GPs can also prescribe apps, simply by sending a text message to the patient with a download invitation.  Many apps are now free to patients, depending on local NHS agreements. In lockdown, there was increased usage of mental health apps for advice and support as well as apps to ensure you are taking your medicines correctly  such as Be Mindful.  

Home testing

GPs can also now order equipment to be sent to patients, such as blood pressure meters to record regularly or single use cardiac monitors that patients attach themselves and then post back after being worn.

An increasing range of blood and urine tests can also be done in the home. For example, with Testcard the necessary materials arrive in the post to the patient, then they can use a smartphone to analyse the dipstick and communicate the result directly back to the GP.

Keeping safe

Safety first is critically important for all these innovations. Changed medical device regulation of apps in particular was in danger of stifling innovation in the EU. This was because of the much-increased need for the use of specialist investigators called Notified Bodies, however the UK has now opted to retain the existing regulatory environment for a while.

Next article