Why safety will be paramount as digital care booms

Our chair Professor Maureen Baker blogs about the impact the virus is having on our services, and how we need to adapt quickly to ensure our new digital systems are working safely.

“Along with the rest of the world, the UK is facing its most serious public health crisis in the past 100 years. As we rush to find ways to support the health service at this difficult time, many of the digital initiatives that we’ve talked about for years are being implemented urgently now.

In general practice, GPs are switching to video consultations while surgeries limit the amount of face-to-face consultations. While some people initially worried that reduced contact would make it harder for GPs to be effective and that patients would miss out on human contact, it’s working well in practice so far. Although some consultations will always need to be done face to face, we’ve learnt that the technology is good enough for doctors to discuss many patient issues, and that camera resolutions are clear enough to check rashes and other visible ailments. Though formal surveys have yet to be done, there seems to be a growing level of patient satisfaction with the new process. Likewise outpatient clinics are also being conducted remotely through video, which seems to be working successfully.

It’s unlikely we’ll now return to consultations without video options, but it will be vital to consider the safety aspects of long-term use. Information still needs to be recorded from the video consults and added to a person’s record. This will never change.

In addition to ensuring patient comfort during this type of consultation, we need standards in place for recording information from video appointments to make sure the information can be safely shared between different NHS and care services. As we turn to these new digital ways of working, it’s also going to be essential that records can be quickly and easily shared through systems, so that everyone involved in care has the full picture about the person for whom they are providing care.

It’s been a particular challenge during the coronavirus crisis, as many people are transferred to hospital without the support of their friends and family. In these situations information about conditions and medications is crucial for the doctors treating them.

As the outbreak worsens, we are already seeing digital health professionals striving to get their initiatives up and running. Short-term solutions will help to save lives, but ensuring their continued safety is also key. Digitisation has the power to not only improve care that’s ongoing during the current crisis, but also make it better, safer and more effective in the future.”