Doctors’ home visits have declined in frequency in recent years, but GP practices have also had to adapt to lockdown restrictions. GPs, less able to see patients in their surgeries, have had to enter our homes through remote virtual channels – while remaining in their surgeries!
It can feel a little impersonal seeing a doctor through a screen but for many it has worked well, and for those of more restricted mobility technology may also be providing better access to consultation.
But a high proportion of triage over the past few months has been delivered remotely so is this trend likely to reverse when Covid-induced restrictions end or ease?
We anticipate that over the coming years the dissemination of medical advice will continue to remain at least in part remote.
We have all had to take more personal responsibility for our health since March, be it checking a temperature, monitoring a headache, taking a Covid test or isolating for 2 weeks after a high fever. Personal and other at home medical devices have helped us to do that.
Thermometers seem to have been around forever and blood pressure monitors have been available for some time, but now there is an array of “Smart” devices too. These include “apps” on phones, smart watches and fitness trackers which claim to track data such as heart rates and the number of steps taken. There is now a ring which tracks sleep and anxiety levels based upon data collected throughout the day, and which is more discrete than many other monitors.
Being alert to changes in data will support individuals’ efforts to manage not just their health, but also their own wellbeing. We may all become more familiar with at-home diagnostic devices that track progress and provide support ahead of seeking professional help. For example, people who own blood pressure monitors can compile a brief history of their blood pressure prior to an appointment and so assist the clinician’s diagnosis. A little knowledge can be dangerous of course so we need to guard against the risk of misplaced self-diagnosis.
From 1 July 2019 all patients in England were covered by a Primary Care Network (PCN) which is part of the NHS long term plan[i]. Prior to that GP practices had been consolidating into PCNs to deliver joined up care for their local communities which are typically made up of 30,000 to 50,000 people[ii]. Existing practices often work together and share funding and resources. This has caused some practices to merge and for others it means developing specialist skills and facilities to support and improve primary health care.
There are challenges to the new model as ageing populations require long term planning which can sometimes need to take a back seat to accommodate immediate waiting lists. Sometimes the health conscious may have a lower threshold for seeking help while practitioners need to continue to identify more vulnerable patients. The demands on the sector are high, and all the while medical discovery is enabling new forms of treatment.
Triage is only one aspect of care, and trips to GP medical centres will still be required for many reasons, such as minor operations and diagnoses, and for patients without access to technology. There are often times when a face to face appointment is warranted, and the General Medical Council has provided some guidance on this[iii], but the triage enables the prioritising of more urgent cases.
Ultimately whether through a screen or in person we are all glad and grateful to receive medical care when anxiety arises. As the nation ages and as medicine becomes more personalised, demand for all these services will grow significantly.
At GBIM we have invested in healthcare for some time. It has been in many guises: pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices, hospitals, GPs’ surgeries and many others. This particular development is just one of many we follow with interest.