Could a greater impact on the health of a nation actually come from looking firstly at primary care or even pre-primary care and the impact of digital solutions? asks Head of Marketing at Doctorink.
Stories of three-month queues for a doctor’s appointment are not uncommon in China. But we could equally be speaking of any number of developing healthcare economies.
When the development of healthcare systems and infrastructure in new or growing health economies is examined, investors and governments often think first about acute or emergency medical settings, large hospitals and healthcare cities, and neglect the largest healthcare need in society.
If healthcare is a virtuous circle (health equals wealth equals health equals wealth and so on), it is hugely important to ensure we invest what will always be limited funds in the right areas of a health economy to touch the largest possible number of people. The answer then has to be digital.
And it’s also the answer to another question about reducing overcrowding in hospitals, rather than building more hospitals. Some countries have found that, despite aggressive hospital building programmes, they still need more infrastructure because not enough attention had been paid to primary care, social care or step up / step down facilities.
The lack of these kinds of facilities has a huge impact on overcrowding in acute hospitals simply because, with no other option, patients will head to the nearest general hospital for every complaint.
When we consider the role of general practitioners in our healthcare systems, we think of their primary function as to prescribe and to heal complaints that don’t require invasive treatments or hospital stays. The argument is that the ultimate purpose of primary care is ultimately to act as a triage and a filter for secondary or acute care. GP’s, then, are the gatekeepers who preserve and guard the precious resource – the acute or specialist hospital bed.
But primary care is only the first part of the answer. What happens when, in its turn and almost inevitably, our primary care system also becomes over-run?
The answer quite simply has to be digital.
A system such as Doctorlink provides a ‘Digital Front Door’ to the healthcare system, a clinically approved digital triage, appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and service finder solution that alleviates clinical and administrative pressure on the system while improving the primary care experience for patients.
The system is based on a navigational algorithm; one of the most clinically-robust on the market. Doctorlink’s symptom assessment covers 95% of presenting conditions and is indemnified with gold standard clinical governance and third-party independent auditing. Rigorous clinical governance ensures all symptom assessments are current, in line with the latest guidelines, and subject to review and approval by an independent team of up to 25 GPs and specialists.
Ultimately it is about having a system which any patient can access, allowing them to obtain the right information and guidance about their condition.
Given that the Primary Care Foundation’s research tells us that in the UK 25-50% of GP appointments are not necessary and that we have typically seen a 22% reduction in demand for appointments in areas where the Doctorlink technology has been implemented, there is clear evidence that a digital front door reduces the strain on any primary care system. That in turn reduces overcrowding and strain in the acute and specialist areas.
Indeed, the Doctorlink technology is actually able to direct the patient to the correct service for their needs, again creating efficiency and value in the health system.
But there are still further benefits to the idea of the digital front door particularly in international settings where geography is a big factor. Primary care is often referred to as ‘the spoke’ in the ‘hub and spoke’ healthcare model where multiple primary care settings service a single large acute centre for more specialised care.
Think of any large rural country, perhaps in Africa or the Middle East, even China. The distances people travel for healthcare, particularly from rural communities, can be a challenge to the very concept of providing universal healthcare coverage. Technology has a huge part to play in these settings, allowing healthcare planners to cover larger areas and offer healthcare coverage to larger population numbers, saving the need for greater physical infrastructure and staffing.
Healthcare Workforce Shortage
According to Dr Mark Britnell, Global Head of Healthcare at KPMG, in his new book “Human”, the global healthcare workforce will be short of some 30m healthcare workers by 2030.
Cultures which are currently net importers of healthcare staff (the UK, The UAE and much of the Middle East) will find the cost of those staff rising exponentially. With staff shortages already starting to bite in countries like the UK, no area of healthcare is harder hit than primary and integrated care.
So, without technology such as Doctorlink, countries will run out of people to provide healthcare.
And, as this crisis rises, the need for the digital front door will become ever greater. Now is the time to step through that door and embrace the inevitable future for every health system on the planet.