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Realising digital-first primary care

Shaping the future of UK healthcare

Digital transformation is widely acknowledged as a way to deliver a more efficient and impactful health service. However, the reality of implementing a digital-first service across the UK’s primary care networks is challenging one.

Our June 2019 report, Closing the digital gap: Shaping the future of UK healthcare, looked at the progress and opportunities for a digital health service in the UK. In this companion report, we focus on digitalisation of primary care and discuss the current state, challenges and potential of digital transformation in general practice. We highlight the key steps needed to improve the adoption of technology by patients, practitioners and the wider healthcare system. The over-riding message is clear: if primary care is to survive and thrive, it has to make the most of technology.

The rationale for transformation

Successive health policies have acknowledged the need for digital transformation of healthcare, including primary and community care. However, progress has varied widely and has generally been slow. Over the past decade, the pressures on general practice have grown year on year. Indeed, the sheer scale of the challenges around demand and capacity have left many general practitioners (GPs) with unmanageable workloads. In recognition of these challenges, NHS policy makers are looking to digital technologies to help bridge the gap between the demand for, and supply of primary care services. Digital-first primary care will lead the transition to preventative and personalised medicine and find innovative ways of managing growing demand from an ageing population and an increased prevalence of chronic diseases.

Integration and safe data sharing

Moving towards new preventative models of care and management of chronic conditions in the next five years will require uninterrupted data flows across Primary Care Networks and Integrated Care Systems. Achieving a solid infrastructure and fluid interoperability of data across organisations and sectors is a priority if these initiatives are to have an impact on a national scale.

At the same time, artificial intelligence, genomics and digital technologies will shape the future of healthcare delivery. These technologies will provide increased accuracy and speed in diagnosis, supporting GPs and other primary care staff in timely decision making. Feeding AI technology with health data in real time from wearables and other personalised information from longitudinal medical records will be key to improving the quality of care and the effective treatment of diseases.

Supporting patients digitally

As the primary healthcare landscape continues to evolve, new and innovative ways to improve the patient experience are emerging. A recent report acknowledged that access to digital technology, such as wearables and smart scales can improve health outcomes and offer huge opportunities to improve disease prevention, help to manage long-term conditions and keep patients out of hospitals.

While the use of innovative technologies varies widely across the NHS, they have the potential to be disruptive if adopted at scale and are essential for delivering new models of care.

To learn more, please read our report or contact our Centre for Health Solutions team

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