Covid-19 – The Unexpected Driver for Embracing Technology


It’s very difficult at the moment to think about anything other than the Covid-19 pandemic. It is presenting primary care with unforeseen challenges and there is a lot of trepidation around how it will cope under the strain.

Although it is far too early to be thinking about absolute learning points from how we deal with it, it will inevitably change the way people work and we need to ensure it’s for the better. These changes may in the future become the norm and perhaps 2020 will become the year that the NHS fully embraces the digital agenda, Covid-19 being the driver. The technology we have available today, used effectively, does give us the ammunition to help fight this crisis.

No better time for remote consultations

NHS Digital figures show that in 2019 less than one in every 100 of all GP appointments was carried out by online video consultation and nearly four in 10 people had no access to online consultations at all. This isn’t because of a lack of technology, but in many cases the decision has been taken not to offer this type of consultation to patients. This has left many on the back foot. England has now asked the UK’s 7000 GP surgeries to offer as many remote consultations, by phone, video or online, as possible.

They have also asked health tech companies to help GP surgeries put in place the equipment needed to meet this enforced explosion in demand for remote consultations.

If just 5% 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 (Digital Healthcare Council). Many have rallied to help GP surgeries and are providing practical support. One thing is certain, 2020 will bring about a shift in how people access their GP.

Communication even more important

How teams communicate has also suddenly changed and become all the more important, after all many of us are embarking on remote working for the first time. How will the team remain cohesive, collaborate and stay focused?

NHS Digital has announced that Microsoft Teams software will be freely available across the NHS to support remote working. This provides messaging, direct audio and video calls. Clearly having one common tool will help healthcare professionals to work better at a time when physical distance is required.

The NHS cannot afford to get this wrong and if seen as an opportunity, these tools will hopefully change working practices for the long term good.

Fast developments

As the coronavirus progresses we are seeing more and more digital health developments daily; additional powers on collecting and analysing data; launch of a new app providing digital access to healthcare and even permission to use WhatsApp to share data, not normally allowed for NHS use.

The acceleration of change we are seeing, with the onslaught of Covid-19 is dramatic. We turn our thoughts to wish those on the frontline well in delivering healthcare at this time and hope that the new ways of working will elevate them to a stronger position in dealing with healthcare requirements in the future.