Coronavirus news round-up: Digital Health debrief


Coronavirus developments continue to move at breakneck speed, resulting in a flurry of announcements this week on how healthcare providers and suppliers are mobilising themselves around the global healthcare crisis.

Much of this has centred on how the NHS can meet a surge in demand for digital services brought on by Covid-19, both for enabling doctors to continue seeing patients amid the outbreak, as well as to support those involved in the delivery of healthcare in communicating and collaborating around their responses.

This week saw a number of important developments concerning digital responses to coronavirus. Here’s a recap of our coverage on Digital Health News.


1. Sick notes to be automated through NHS 111 to prevent Covid-19 spread

NHS Digital, the national provider of information, data and IT systems for the NHS, is working on a system that will enable sick notes to be automatically generated for people suspected of having coronavirus.

The service, which is still in development stages but is being built “as quickly as possible” by NHS Digital, will work by creating a personalised document at the end of an NHS 111 online triage process if it recommends that a person self-isolates.

In doing so, people will be able to give a sick note to their employer without having to come into face-to-face contact with their doctor, which reduces the risk of the virus spreading.

Once the service has been built it will be integrated into NHS 111 online, which can be reached by everyone on the 111.nhs.uk website or through the NHS App.


2. Microsoft Teams to be rolled out across NHS in response to coronavirus

Microsoft Teams has been made available for free for a limited time across the NHS to help healthcare workers work together more effectively while working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform allows users to send instant messages, place video calls and share images and documents.

Having a single collaboration platform available across the entire NHS will make it easier for healthcare professionals to work together while avoiding the health risks of Covid-19.

NHS Digital began rolling out Teams to NHS organisations on 16 March, and is expected to be available to all users of NHSmail by 20 March. Organisations that do not use NHSmail have been advised to contact Microsoft directly.


3. TPP brings forward launch of new app amid coronavirus outbreak

TPP has brought forward of its new patient-facing app in an effort to provide more digital avenues for accessing healthcare services.

Airmid was due to be launched this summer, however TPP decided to accelerate the launch to help relieve pressure on the NHS.

The app allows patients to access their health information, book and manage appointments, access video consultations and order repeat prescriptions.

TPP has also included advice on Covid-199 and links to the NHS 111 online service.

More information about the app can be found here.


 4. EMIS makes GP video consultation service free in coronavirus fight

EMIS Group announced that it was making its video consultation service free to GPs who used its web-based clinical system.

Some 4,000 GPs in England using EMIS Web now have the capability to offer video consultations to patients, to mitigate the risks of coronavirus by reducing face-to-face contact.

It is hoped that offering video consultations will also ensure vital GP services remain in place as Covid-19 spreads.

The service, called Video Consult, is being offered to practices at no cost for a period of 12 weeks.


5. NHS Digital handed additional powers to help counter Covid-19 spread

NHS Digital has been granted additional powers to help counter the spread of coronavirus.

Health secretary Matt Hancock and NHS England gave legal directions for NHS Digital to use existing powers to make it possible for new services to be delivered more quickly and data to be used more efficiently, to help in the response to the outbreak.

This includes collecting and analysing data to help doctors, nurses and other health professionals to understand the illness more, identify patients with coronavirus and those who are vulnerable to the disease, and understand more about how the NHS is responding to the threat.

It is hoped this data will help the NHS deliver more services to support staff amid the outbreak, as well help patients get the right information and advice about coronavirus.


6. Clinicians told they can use WhatsApp to share data in face of Covid-19

Clinicians have been told they can use WhatsApp and similar messaging apps to share information about coronavirus.

New guidance from NHS X, the tech strategy and policy arm of NHS England, authorises the use of commercial messaging apps, which are generally not approved for NHS use, “where the benefits outweigh the risk” as the NHS deals with the fallout of Covid-19

Health and care staff have also been told they can use their own devices to support video conferencing for consultations, mobile messaging and home working “where there is no practical alternative”.

You can follow the latest news on digital responses to coronavirus on Digital Health’s Covid-19 Live Blog.

Please note that Digital Health is a media organisation and cannot help with access to NHS services, or provide medical guidance on coronavirus.

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