Digital tools can save millions of hours of GP time, says NHS tech blueprint

The ability of digital technology to reduce GP workload and eliminate unnecessary consultations 'cannot be overstated', according to a government blueprint to make the NHS 'the world leader in revolutionary technologies'.

Digital technology (Photo: iStock.com/MF3d)
Digital technology (Photo: iStock.com/MF3d)

Speech recognition therapy alone could free up almost 6m hours of time a year for GPs by speeding up note-taking during consultations, according to the independent review carried out for the NHS by leading US doctor and digital health expert Dr Eric Topol.

Technology can also be used to 'streamline access to services and reduce the number of unnecessary visits by patients to hospitals or GP surgeries' - potentially generating huge savings in cost and time to the NHS, the Topol review says.

It assesses the potential of genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to transform healthcare and the way clinicians work - and says these technologies can provide a 'new means of addressing the big healthcare challenges of the 21st century'.

NHS technology blueprint

Health secretary Matt Hancock, who commissioned the review, said it would provide a blueprint for the government's 'tech vision' for the NHS as it implements its 10-year plan for the health service.

Launching the review, Dr Topol said: 'Over the next 20 years three changes will inevitably happen: more and more people will have their genome sequenced; patients will generate and interpret much more of their own health data at home; and the speed, accuracy and scalability of medical data interpretation from artificial intelligence will grow exponentially.

'These developments will change patients’ lives, change how clinicians work and change how healthcare services are delivered. This is happening now and the NHS is ideally placed to take it further, faster and wider if we act to give our staff the skills and knowledge they need to make them the norm across the NHS.'

Mr Hancock said: 'Technology must be there to enhance and support clinicians. It has the potential to make working lives easier for dedicated NHS staff and free them up to use their medical expertise and do what they do best: care for patients.'

Digital skills

Within 20 years, the review estimates, 90% of NHS jobs will require 'some element of digital skills', requiring a 'fundamental shift in the balance of skills in the workforce'.

Genomics, the report says, will become 'integral to all medical specialties' - with many aspects becoming part of routine healthcare delivery - while AI will 'augment the skills of the NHS workforce, and digital medicine will speed up diagnosis and allow more personalised care.

Staff will need support and time to adapt to using new technology, the report warns, requiring investment not just in the technology itself, but the people who use it.

The five-year GP contract for 2019/20 onwards outlined earlier this year by NHS England and the GPC promises 'online first' primary care from 2020, with patients offered online access to records, appointment booking, repeat prescriptions and more.

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