GPs urged to go digital to prevent spread of coronavirus

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GP practices across the country have been advised to assess patients online or via telephone and video appointments to mitigate the potential spread of coronavirus.

In a letter to GPs last week, NHS England urged Britain’s 7,000 GP surgeries to reduce face-to-face appoints for patients displaying symptoms of Covid-19.

The organisation wants to prevent anyone with the virus that should be self-isolating turning up to surgeries where they put healthcare professional and other patients at risk.

The preemptive move means millions of patients will now be triaged online, via telephone or video and contacted via text messaging services.

“To mitigate any risk that potentially infected patients book appointments online and attend the practice when they should be receiving advice to self-isolate or go through testing, all practices are now being advised to change face-to-face appointments booked online to triage appointments via telephone or video,” Dr Nikita Kanani, a GP and NHS England’s medical director for primary care, wrote.

Digital healthare providers have issued several statements on the importance of technology in the face of Covid-19.

Juliet Bauer, UK managing director of online GP service LIVI, said: “Digital presents an important opportunity – stopping the spread of disease whilst increasing NHS capacity, ensuring the NHS can continue to deliver high quality primary care to patients across the UK.

“With six million – one in five UK employees – likely to be affected during the worst of the outbreak, video consultations give worried patients immediate access to GP advice and support, safe from spreading or catching infection.

“Video consultations enable GPs to continue treating patients even if their surgeries are forced to close, and can be deployed in other areas where the increased demand on GP services means that patients cannot get regular appointments either.”

Graham Kendall, director of the Digital Healthcare Council, added: “In light of the request from NHS England, the Digital Healthcare Council is ready to support all digital health companies providing online NHS consultations to patients across the country to make sure patients are seen by a medical professional as quickly and safely as possible.

“As the UK’s representative body for digital healthcare providers, we are working closely with our members to ensure that they able to react rapidly to all coronavirus updates from Government and NHS England and to support the NHS during this unprecedented time.

“If just five percent of GP consultations went digital, there would be 300,000 fewer face to face visits to a GP a week, each of these could be a potential coronavirus transmission.”

Dr Dan Bunstone, chief medical officer of Push Doctor, said the ongoing situation was “shining a light on how health tech companies must adapt to changing demands”.

“Our priority is to ensure that NHS patients can easily access high-quality clinical care and services that are aligned with the government’s coronavirus action plan.”

NHS England launched an update to NHS 111 last week in order to help people get quick advice about coronavirus, after a surge of enquiries to the health service about the outbreak.

The service provides people with approved advice and frees up clinical call handlers’ time so they are able to prioritise 111 phone callers experiencing symptoms.

Since its launch on 4 March more than one million people have accessed the service, NHSE has revealed.

At its peak, the service received more than 210,000 enquiries in a single day.

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