Dominic King on the role of apps in primary care

90% of patient interaction in the national health service in England is with primary care services , which provide the principal point of consultation for patients within the NHS and coordinates the care they receive from other specialists they may need. Primary care services in the NHS are under increasing pressure, having to cope effictively with an increasing demand for their services and an expectation that they will be able to manage more complex cases.

A significant challenge for general practice lies in how they are able to interact and communicate with patients. General practitioners are increasingly working in partnership with patients to improve health and manage health needs more cost-effectively. Improved communication and enhaced information transfer is essential to this process but is challenging given the current strategies in use. GP practices predominantly communicate to patients through letters and phonecalls with some innovative practices recently using SMS text messaging. Many practices find that attempts to communicate with service users is often ineffective with patients addresses and phone numbers being wrong.

In the English NHS at least, primary care has been much better than secondary care in using IT systems effectively. The overwhelming majority of GP practices are fully automated, with full electronic records the norm rather than the exception. Through IT providers like EMIS, primary care users are also able to book appointments and request repeat prescriptions.  But so far the mHealth revolution hasn’t hit primary care. Why? I would suggest two reasons.

1) Cost – whilst hospitals have multimillion bound IT budgets, the reality is that most practices simply don’t have the money to create stand alone apps

2) Value added services – some GP practices have released basic apps that provide at most information on opening times and contact details. For practices to be interested to develop their own apps, developers need to provide them with services that add value eg. appointment booking or health monitoring tools

DigitalStitch have been working with Brook Green Medical Centre – an innovative GP practice in London – to come up with mobile solutions for patients and health professionals. We will be releasing an app with Brook Green that lets patients take more control over their health and improves communication between the practice and the members of the community it serves. We are all very excited about the potential of such an app and think there is real potential to see a wider use of apps in primary care.

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