|Blog Article|||||By Emma Elstead||12 November 2020|
The arrival of a pandemic is fast-tracking many healthcare services towards a digital interface, says Simplyhealth’s head of clinical services Emma Elstead.
It has been an evolution really. If you take something like GP services, these were only ever conducted face-to-face or as a home visit. But as caseloads developed the industry moved to telephone consultations and e-consultations. More recently we are seeing patients appreciate the benefits of video consultations, which have been around for a while, and doctors with whom you can get an appointment pretty much straight away.
Slowly, but surely, people have started to realise the benefits of going online for medical diagnosis. For example, there is less waiting time for a telephone appointment – 92% of our appointments are delivered within three hours of the requested time; an online appointment on the phone or over video means you get to speak to your doctor for longer; you don’t have to travel to the surgery and potentially get stuck in traffic. The providers have also realised a number of benefits too; it is quite simply more efficient, and patients are better at sticking to their dedicated appointments.
One of the biggest services Simplyhealth has developed which is quite unique in the market is providing patients with the opportunity to see the same online GP they have seen before, which isn’t really something that exists in physical GP surgery visits anymore.
At Simplyhealth we have seen a gradual rise in the use of our digital GP services over the past few years, and 80% of our consultations undertaken today are on video. During the pandemic, this has grown significantly: we have seen a 95.9% increase in online GP consultations from May-July this year, compared to 2019.
However, amongst those positive points there are still a number of limitations. There is no such thing as a hands-on assessment through technology, for example, and that may be essential for some illnesses.
The pandemic has shone a light on the need for digital health services to support the NHS. Cutting down the need for face-to-face NHS consultations through online appointments that can diagnose and offer solutions is one way to do that. There is also the ability of online consultations to act as a triaging service that is able to fast-track patients and ensure they are in the right place e.g. an A&E facility if they really need to be there, or somewhere else.
We can support the NHS by treating symptoms of certain illnesses early. I believe we will see a real change in the demographic and distribution of chronic illnesses soon because if we can pick-up on the most common back/knee pain early on through online consultations, we can avoid the development of chronic pain for that person which is just fantastic.
We need to talk about it more. Most people accept this is the direction we are moving in, but few people realise all of the benefits on offer. For employers, there is the massive advantage of reduced absence if they used the services on offer. Instead of taking a morning off for an appointment they can book a meeting room for a private 20-30 minute talk.
If they take care of a niggly pain in their back early on, they might not need to take a week off later when they are in agony from ignoring it. Then there is the fact patients can get a prescription delivered to work or home so you don't have to go to the chemist. There is so much on offer that employees need to be made aware of.
Where do you see this technology moving in five years’ time?
As we evolve, and with the help of wearable technology and your smartphone too, individuals will be able to detect their temperature and blood pressure at home themselves. But it is important we get this technology right, and are not simply rushing it through as a response to coronavirus.
At the moment it's very much a primary care thing but what coronavirus has done is pushed it into the secondary care field. It is going to make for much more efficient healthcare, and support the NHS hugely over the coming decade.
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