How Has COVID-19 Shaped the Use of Digital Solutions in the NHS?

How Has COVID-19 Shaped the Use of Digital Solutions in the NHS?

The NHS Long Term Plan, as published in January 2019, was clear in its steer towards digital transformation. As stated in Chapter 5 of the plan ‘Virtually every aspect of modern life has been, and will continue to be, radically reshaped by innovation and technology – and healthcare is no exception.’ This notion in itself is not new for the NHS. After all, digital solutions have been on the rise in the NHS for many years.

In 2020, COVID-19 fast-tracked this process significantly. As face-to-face contact was reduced, software came to aid in continuing daily tasks digitally.

Since the outbreak in March, healthcare organisation embraced the digital sphere and adopted virtual solutions. This change brought an important steer towards telehealth and digital administration, which offered the NHS the tools to improve productivity, capacity management, Patient Safety checks and more.

From face-to-face to online GP appointments

GP appointment via phone

One of the changes that quickly came about was the change for General Practitioners to meet virtually rather than face-to-face. Highlighted during the Best Practice Live Event and reported in Nuffield Trust’s August briefing, where 80% of appointment used to be face-to-face, this fell to under 50% in June.  

With the second wave hitting the country this autumn the expectations are this shift towards telehealth will likely stay with us.

Microsoft Teams rolled out by NHS

Digital meetings have become the new norm and those working in the NHS will have gotten used to hearing ‘You’re on mute’ and waving hands awkwardly at their screens. In March, the NHS made the quick shift to Microsoft Teams for online meetings.

The agreement between the NHS and Microsoft meant 1.2 million NHS staff members now had access to meet people virtually via Teams. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, stated: “We have seen incredible, innovative uses of technology throughout the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic and this new deal with Microsoft will pave the way for that to continue by ensuring we get the basics right.”

A positive change has been the increased interconnectivity between people stationed at different locations, meaning on many occasions less hours spend travelling and, consequently, better productivity.

Increased use of digital on the patients’ side

Doctor using app

Besides the NHS staff taking on digital solutions at a rapid pace, patients are increasingly using the online space for their care as well. E-prescriptions, and the use of the NHS app are two areas where increases have taken place. Nuffield Trusts reports this may largely be out of necessity and a preference away from face-to-face meetings with the threat of the virus in close human contacts.

NHS Digital reported peaks in a number of digital health services on offer in the UK. Firstly, daily visits on their website with 3.4 million coronavirus-related visits on 17 March 2020. Though October hasn’t seen a spike as such (a rough average of 300,000 visits per day), the use of the online space to find information on the virus is abundant.

The NHS App has seen increases as well. NHS Digital stated the number of NHS App registrations increased by 111% last March. In addition, triage calls increased by 12.2% comparing March 2019 to March 2020.

New digital initiatives abundant in the NHS

The call for finding online solutions in the NHS is continuing as social distancing is forcing the population to be creative in providing (preventative) care. A new initiative was launched in September to provide care homes with iPads so they can stay in touch with family and friends to reduce the loneliness residents face.

At Promatica, we have also seen significant shifts where NHS organisations made quick decisions in preparing their service. Adopting solutions before the second wave hit became key to some to reduce administrative tasks on for example medical fridge temperature monitoring.

Digital Exclusion and Inclusion

Though the NHS implemented many quick digital changes over the course of the last seven months, an important debate has risen up once more. There is concern for a large group of digitally excluded staff and patients, who have difficulty accessing healthcare that has swiftly moved online.

NHS organisations across the countries are aiming at tackling digital exclusion and ensuring people who face difficulties with the rapid rise of online solutions are not left stranded.  

The advancements and use of digital solutions are continuing to increase. What solutions have you found within your health or social care organisations that offered a helpful change?