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IT investment needed to help GP services survive

Experts call for investment to help IT boost primary care

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 08 April 2016

Significant investment is needed in information technology (IT) developments in the coming years to help general practice survive with ever growing demand, claims a NHS commissioned report.

The Digital requirements for new primary care models  report from health think tank the Nuffield Trust looks at emerging changes in primary care, and how digital technology can help managers and clinicians deliver them.

The report, commissioned by NHS England, warns that primary care is in a transitional period during which it badly needs significant investment in infrastructure, software and training.

Such investment could be targeted at:

  • shared electronic health records to facilitate coordinated care
  • telehealth solutions to improve patient access to services and professional access to specialist expertise
  • patient tools and resources such as portals that help with booking appointments online and access to records, information and advice.

The report’s authors said that primary care was changing and new approaches to care delivery and organisational design were emerging in response to demographic changes, more complex patients and a range of policy and financial pressures such as “tight funding”, medical workforce shortage, and the demand for seven-day access.

“Technology is playing a central role in supporting the development of these new models, facilitating collaboration and integration across multiple care providers and settings; improving communication between patients and professionals; increasing efficiency and empowering patients to manage their health and wellbeing more effectively,” says the report.

All of this technology was available now, but very few primary care providers were using it and no single organisation was using all of it.

Many challenges existed including GPs and patients being resistant to change and gaps in IT capability or IT infrastructure.

The report says: “There is a long way to go before digital technology can improve the working lives of professionals and have an impact on patient outcomes. Much of the hard work needs to be addressed at a local or organisational level – such as overcoming resistance to new technology or lack of clinician engagement.

“We must not forget that primary care is in a transitional phase. The current transformation effort is being driven by pilots and short-term programmes, many of which will not prove sustainable in the long term.

“During this phase of rapid and potentially radical change, significant investment in infrastructure, software and training is needed.

“In the longer term, when service models and their technologies are operating effectively and organisations are mature, the role of practice leaders and central organisations will change. They must reflect on what level of innovation is desirable and achievable on an ongoing basis and what level of investment they are prepared to make in the long term.”

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