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On the frontline in a digital age

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An insight into the increasingly tech-savvy world of the GP.

A pioneering medical practitioner has seen a thirteen-fold increase in consultation hours his Staffordshire practice spends on its digital consultation services over the Covid epidemic.

Prior to the epidemic about 10% of his practice’s consultations were digital and 90% face-to-face, but those figures have been flipped to about 90% digital consultation and 10% face-to-face.

Dr Jack Aw, senior partner and GP has been working with global communications company, Poly to deliver staff inductions, remote consultations and training seminars to hundreds of medical professionals and students from his practice.

Dr Aw reports that in January 2020 there were 433 consultations taking 71 hours, in July there were 3,400 consultations taking 945 consultation hours

“In terms of magnitude, that’s massive,’’ he said. “It has been a good change agent. Whereas previously people would say, why do we need to do this? But when Covid started patients naturally feared coming in or didn’t want to leave their houses in lock-down and health care providers naturally feared being exposed unnecessarily. It has definitely been an accelerator.

“Things have flattened slightly as we have opened up, I’d be happy with about 20% face-to face. We are now rebalancing some of that, we are taking the same precautions and we’re able now to see the benefits of having worked differently. It has forced us to work differently and allowed us to critically look at how we go forward. We are ahead of the curve on this, what we are doing is not the norm.’’

The systems, which use a voice controlled video-enabled headset and a Poly Studio X30 video bar, can be used to connect a range of medical professionals who can consult together from variety of locations to help patients at Dr Aw’s clinic.

“The practice uses a variety of available systems to meet the gap between doing nothing at all and full-blown face-to-face clinics,’’ he said.

His practice has added systems that can complement the standard telephone and limited video.

“We can add other information, so we can see your expression, we can see if you’re in pain and we can see how fast you’re breathing and we can use those senses,’’ he said. “We have electronic digital stethoscopes that allow us to listen to your heart and lungs as if we were in your house. Another device allows us to remotely check peoples’ ECG. Then we are able to gather more information to be able to make better decisions about how to treat people and whether we need to see them.’’

The practice serves 28,000 patients from six geographic sites and the digital solutions were developed to enable greater efficiency in running those sites to maximise service to patients.

“One group of clinicians can support our health care systems on multiple sites,’’ said Dr Aw. “We are generating quite a lot of interest and providing information and data to others on how things could be done differently.’’

Dr Aw is now developing virtual doctor rooms, whereby a patient could enter a room in his practice for procedures such as a temperature or blood pressure check without being physically seen by a doctor.

Dr Aw is also able to show students how he examines a variety of medical issues from joints to rashes. With a limited number of GPs in the area, coupled with recruitment and retention issues, he is working to ensure that medical professionals can be properly trained in a safe and secure environment. He can also call upon international specialists who are currently restricted from travel.

He also argues that digital consultations are also more environmentally friendly by minimising travel.

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