I know a GP who regularly works three or four hours a night checking results and processing administration.
It’s the sort of work she’d would like to do at home after she’s put her kids to bed but unfortunately the technology available won’t allow her to work remotely so she stays late at the surgery.
This highlights two things: the dedication of NHS staff and the flaws in the health service’s current technology infrastructure.
It’s one example of a hardworking GP trying to balance the pressures of family life with her role at the coalface of primary care and it’s an unsustainable model.
Clearly there’s a higher threshold around cyber security when dealing with patient records but the worry is that without a better work-life balance she might join the exodus of GPs leaving the profession. Technology could make her life easier and it’s just one reason why the NHS needs to embrace a digital-first approach.
The challenge is how to create the time to teach busy doctors about the benefits of tech when they’re putting in all the hours seeing patients.
To answer that we must first acknowledge that GPs aren’t superhuman. They face the same pressures we all face and more, working in a high pressure environment treating patients, chasing up tests and interpreting results. They can’t afford to get it wrong.
The technology is there to allow GPs to do some work remotely, including video consultations, and Artificial Intelligence has the potential to interpret selected low-level test results but adoption is too slow.
We’re doing some work around deploying GPs who are interested in offering more back office support like interpreting results across Primary Care Networks (PCNs) to take some of the admin away from GPs who want to spend more time talking to patients.
One of the challenges facing the NHS is its sheer size. It’s the biggest employer in the UK. By the time technology is rolled out it’s often out-of-date. IT solutions will often he geared towards small scale deployment. For instance we’re looking at solutions around digital records. On a practice-by-practice basis that’s affordable but multiply it by 300 practices and that costs money that doesn’t exist anymore.
Technology can help the NHS become more agile and it could learn lessons from the private sector. Shoe repairer Timpson famously uses an ‘upside down management’ technique which entrusts customer-facing staff with the freedom to serve customers the way they see fit.
In the NHS the doctors and the nurses are the customer-facing staff so are best placed to identify problems and come up with solutions. A good example is Lydia Yarlott, who was working as a junior doctor when she realised the technology being used by staff to communicate wasn’t fit for purpose and launched her own tech solution.
She comes from a generation where everything is done online so to have to communicate with colleagues using a radio pager system was archaic. Instead the tech-savvy paediatrician created the internal NHS communication app Forward Health, which builds a phonebook of all healthcare staff signed up across the country, allowing staff to contact someone in a different department quickly. At the last count the app had 10,000 people signed up over six hospitals.
Whether it’s supporting junior doctors like Lydia Yarlott or the hardworking GP I mentioned earlier, who regularly works an extra three or four hours a day, the NHS has to speed up the adoption of technology.