What does the future of technology in primary healthcare hold?

Technological innovation in primary care has been prevalent in the media recently with Jeremy Hunt’s push for ideas to help ease the increasing workload for GPs.

With the UK seemingly falling behind other countries that centre their medical service around improvements in technology, the NHS still seems to be struggling.

Dr Shahid Ali, a Bradford GP and Professor of Digital Health at the University of Salford told GP Online that ‘technology can save practices the equivalent of year’s work for one GP.’ If this is the case, what does the NHS have in the store for digital healthcare and what has proven to be a success elsewhere in the world?

What’s in the pipeline?


This has been widely discussed for the NHS, with Jeremy Hunt wanting to offer seven-day access to patients; Skype consultations have been discussed as a way to make this viable.

Skype consultations have been seen as a way to improve GP access due to many complaining they struggle to book appointments with their doctor.

It has been a success in other areas of the world for private companies who have made a fortune offering round-the-clock GP access to patients, but the question is, does it benefit the patient?

For patients with busy lives, people who live in remote areas or those who are unable to travel to a practice this could be the cure for them.

However, many GPs worry that this will cause a two-tier health service, hindering those that are less technologically able, particularly the elderly. It’s also questionable how a thorough diagnosis can be made over camera.


The use of smartphone apps has been an innovation that has seen a surge in popularity due to a rise in mobile phone usage.

With a range of apps available, the NHS has taken a step into the future by prescribing uMotif to patients. This online and mobile application allows users to monitor their health and choose to share their data with their clinicians, carers, friends and family members to improve care.

These apps are being seen as a great way to put the power in the patient’s hands, build independence, educate and therefore ease the pressure on the NHS.

However, this change will also be something more useful to the younger generation who are more technology friendly than the elderly.

Digital Health Records

Jeremy Hunt recently stressed the need for ‘digital, real time, interoperable electronic health records for the whole NHS’. This would help the link between general practices, secondary care and community care providers with regards to patient records.

It will also mean that patients will be able to access their own health records, once again putting care into their hands. It will hopefully stop the need for patients to have to repeat their medical history to different providers too.

To help this happen Capita have won a £1bn NHS contract to oversee administration which will include the management of clinical records, amongst other services.

Outsourcing services to private companies has been criticised by many who say the increase in administration and increasing costs are diverting away from patient care.

Every problem has a solution

This is where the NHS Innovation Challenge Award has stepped in. Starting in 2012, this award exists to encourage, recognise and reward frontline ideas and supports innovators in getting them embedded across the NHS.

Since the award’s inception it has helped to identify and spread proven innovations, with categories including earlier cancer diagnosis, reducing avoidable attendances in primary care and improved diagnostic investigation.

The awards cover a wide spectrum of healthcare, and this year’s award features the following categories:

  • Diabetes Challenge
  • Digital Patient and Clinician Engagement and Use of Technology Challenge
  • Rehabilitation Challenge
  • Infection Control Challenge
  • Acorn Challenge – The Chloride Dipstick in Dehydration

One of the award winners for this year focused on innovations that can be of use in primary care. The winner was the HOT_TIA system invented by Dr Devesh Sinha at Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for the Digital Patient and Clinician Engagement and Use of Technology Challenge.

This system is a state-of-the-art referral process which has meant that the number of high-risk stroke and Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) patients seen within 24 hours has soared from 17% to 96%. So impressive were these statistics that this system is now being implemented in seven neighbouring NHS trusts.

This hyper-acute TIA online electronic form uses simple pre-programmed drop-down boxes to avoid the need for complex paper calculations in GP surgeries. The completed form generates an instant ‘risk score’, allowing GPs to send a referral directly to the smartphone inboxes of the hospital-based stroke team.

High-risk patients are then contacted urgently, sometimes even before they have left the GP consultation, inviting them to attend a specialist stroke clinic.

What’s going on around the world?

The NHS could look around the world for technological inspiration with a variety of other countries boasting innovative ideas that have helped their healthcare providers.

In India last year’s Jugaad-a-thon saw three top innovations all to help young children and pregnant women. Baby Steps, Pec Dia and Pregmatic all helped with a range of things from early diagnosis of developmental delays to creating a solution to diagnose Cephalopelvic Disproportion to reminding pregnant women of the key milestones in pregnancy when they must see a medical professional.

Whilst in Nigeria, Fidson Healthcare is at the forefront of security technology in the healthcare industry by inventing a type of product packaging to help combat the spread of counterfeit drugs. Each Fidson product has a branded sticker on it with a number that the consumer can text charge free to verify the authenticity of the product.

Wearable technology has taken over America, with the vanguard of the wellness movement; companies can now track every aspect of their employees’ lives. Members of staff that manage to keep their results within healthy levels can qualify for an annual bonus.

The Willy Wonka of the technology world

It comes as little surprise that ‘ the Willy Wonka of the technology world’ would be a Google company. This company is Google X - the X denotes the search for solutions that are better by a factor of ten. Google X is a semi-secret facility dedicated to making major technological advancements, creating everything from driverless cars to the digital Google Glass.

Google X have also delved into healthcare technology, inventing some very interesting and promising gadgets, including contact lenses that can measure glucose, these can then be used rather than blood samples to test for diabetes. They’ve also started working with nanoparticles that can be used to detect disease like cancer.

Healthcare technology is evolving at an increasing pace so the NHS need to make sure they keep on top of it and invest in equipment that will not only benefit the patients but also GPs and the other practice staff.


© First Practice Management, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



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