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How the right technologies can address key challenges in primary care today

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In light of the recently published Times Health Commission report, Carmelo Insalaco, CEO and Co-Founder of Rapid Health, emphasises the need for problem-solving using innovations, many of which already exist and their benefits evidenced, to address the pressing challenges across primary care.

The Times Health Commission report aptly highlights the main challenges that healthcare in the UK is currently facing, and where we need to focus our attention to future-proof the NHS and mitigate any potential risks to quality of patient care and longer patient wait times.

What we need to investigate now though, is how we can implement real change to improve conditions for both staff and patients.

Addressing challenges such as patient access and the workforce crisis is a mammoth task, but we need to look towards the right digital solutions which could resolve these problems for good.

The report begins with a 10-point plan for health, acknowledging problem areas to prioritise in the NHS.

However, there remains a clear need for a larger healthcare workforce and smarter technologies to implement the plan effectively.

Growing the NHS workforce given the current crisis will not be easy, and building and implementing new technologies from scratch is simply not a feasible solution.

A big risk for the NHS is adopting the wrong technologies without a pre-existing evidence base in the hopes that these might solve underlying issues, but this could lead to further challenges and delays.

We need to utilise proven technology that already exists within the infrastructure and can pin-point the exact challenges to offer efficient solutions for the NHS.

Automated clinical triage tools can help manage additional workforce pressures and safely navigate patients to the right path, such as booking the right appointments at the right time

The plan’s first point proposes creating digital health accounts and patient passports for everyone, enabling patients to access test results and schedule appointments online.

While enabling people to book their own appointments is promising, they need to book the right ones which don’t require an additional workforce to navigate the patient, making issues worse and introducing potential new bottlenecks.

Automated clinical triage tools can enable this by reading patient records and assessing them at first contact.

Patients are then told what appointment/s they need and presented with a variety of suitable booking times to choose from; a personalised care pathway, with patient choice.

Technology plays a crucial role in maintaining consistency in clinical decision-making, proactively managing patient care at all touchpoints, and guiding patients to the appropriate care pathways promptly.

It also offers additional options for preventive care for example, health checks and vaccinations, to further support patients on their care pathway.

This can help alleviate pressures on emergency and primary care staff and normalise demand.

The plan’s third point focuses on guaranteeing timely appointments and reinstating continuity of care while promoting the establishment of super practices.

The key to this is managing demand, for which an automated clinical triage solution is essential.

To manage demand, it is important to standardise decision-making and automate navigation as well as administrative tasks.

Automation of clinical and administrative tasks can help ensure appointments are spread throughout the day, based on urgency, so that clinical staff can promptly meet the needs of every patient.

On average, 44 per cent of primary care appointments are booked for urgent same day review, but the deviation is far greater.

Evidence shows this can be halved to 20-23 per cent with current automated clinical triage innovations and could get to as low as 10-15 per cent once there are better systems to manage pre-existing conditions.

For patients to be seen promptly, we need to manage staff capacity by ensuring they are triaged to the correct care pathway from the outset.

Smart digital front doors like Rapid Health can assess patient needs and practice capacity to distribute demand accordingly in real time.

Just six weeks after implementing Rapid Health, one GP practice saw a 27 per cent reduction in calls and no more patient queues on the phone.

Changing patient behaviours is essential to implementing long term digital solutions

The report touches on the crucial need to educate communities on the benefits technologies can have on their healthcare experiences to promote sustained changes in how people engage with available services, and ensure that operational processes are optimised for maximum efficiency.

The automated clinical triage process is encouraging patients to adopt a new way of booking appointments without having the anxieties associated with the “8am rush” and not being able to see a doctor.

An intelligent, easy-to-use online assessment safely leads patients towards the options that best match their symptoms and presentation.

At Manor Court Surgery, 77 per cent of patients preferred having the ability to choose their own appointment times and 69 per cent preferred to use automated clinical triage.

This proves that if the digital capability is there and works effectively, patients are willing to adopt new ways of accessing care.

Technology can help collate key data to improve NHS care delivery

Rapid Health’s intelligent AI system can capture data in a controlled, structured manner.

Currently, we are developing our data collection capabilities in a practice-led real-world evaluation with Groves Health New Malden practice to learn how we can improve access, better manage demand, and unlock capacity.

In the next phase of the evaluation, this data is intended to help craft a real-time workforce blueprint that enables practices to manage demand and maximise their capacity by recruiting for the right roles within the NHS to deliver care to their patient demographics such as GPs, nurses, and physician associates.

We need scalable, problem-solving solutions

Though the Times Health Commission report acknowledges the pressure points currently faced by the NHS, it doesn’t make long term suggestions to solve these fundamental problems.

It’s great to shed light on important issues and acknowledge that ‘technology has the power to transform healthcare,’ but if the solutions we implement aren’t scalable and targeted towards solving problems across the whole patient pathway, what’s the benefit?

The technology to address these concerns does exist and there is real world evidence showing that benefits can be realised in just days and weeks, not years.

What we need is a layer of coordination, intelligence and interoperability, which can eliminate the noise and make sure pre-existing digital tools are integrated effectively into the NHS.

When we talk about innovation in healthcare, we need to make sure it solves the problem long term and doesn’t make the situation worse further down the line.

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