4 Emerging General Practice Trends that are Changing Healthcare

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Between 2015 and 2019, the number of full-time GPs in the UK dropped by 3.9% – the first sustained drop in 50 years.

The lure of early retirement is certainly a contributing factor to the current shortage of GPs. But the main cause is stress. The average GP sees 41 patients every day. Worse, one in five family doctors run more than 50 consultations per day. That’s twice the recommended number.

At the same time, appointment waiting times have increased. On average, patients must wait 15 days to see their GP. Quite apart from the impact this has on patient satisfaction levels, many experts worry about the health implications of such long delays.

Thankfully, there are several emerging trends that look set to ease the pressure on general practice and improve patient care. Here are four of the most significant.

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The 4 General Practice Trends You Need to Look Out For

1.      Telehealth

Telehealth – not to be confused with telemedicine – is a catchall term for the clinical and non-clinical support GPs provide their patients outside normal surgery hours. The aim is to give GPs more control over their increasingly busy schedules using technology.

Among the most important aspects of telehealth is remote patient monitoring (RPM). This allows GPs to supervise patients between visits and respond quickly to health issues using modern technology. For instance, doctors can advise on minor conditions remotely using video conferencing tools and reserve face-to-face appointments for those that need more direct intervention.

From the patient’s perspective, telehealth improves patient engagement and, crucially, helps those suffering from long-term conditions manage them. Rather than waiting weeks for an appointment, patients have access to professional healthcare services whenever and wherever they need it. This includes information on the latest healthcare news, remote consultations, and support for ongoing/chronic conditions.

2.      Mobile and Self-serve Technology

Patient check-in screens have been alleviating the burden on administrative staff for over a decade. But they're not without their problems.

With patient numbers increasing, it’s not uncommon for queues to form around them. Particularly as the average surgery will likely have one, maybe two, touchscreens in operation at any one time. To address this issue, some have turned to mobile self-check-in.

The advantage of this approach is that patients can check-in for upcoming appointments directly from their smartphone or tablet. This further reduces queues at reception, as well as the number of physical touchpoints in the waiting room – an important consideration in the current climate.

This isn’t the only example of GP surgeries using mobile and self-serve technology to ease the pressure on practice administrators. Modern apps allow patients to book appointments, order prescriptions, and even communicate with their doctor.

Ultimately, this technology is part of the wider mHealth trend that’s emerged in recent years. Patients want to take a more active role in their own care, while doctors are looking for ways to reduce their workloads. Mobile and self-serve technology satisfy both these needs.

3.      Wearables

Back when wearables like the Fitbit burst onto the scene in 2009, they were something of a fad. They were useful for monitoring basic health information, but generally the preserve of fitness fanatics. That’s no longer the case.

In recent years, wearables have evolved in their capabilities to encompass all manner of health data. Modern wearables contain advanced sensors that monitor heart rate and rhythm, as well as blood pressure. Some even function as basic electrocardiograms (ECG).

Users can then export the data, which helps doctors catch potential health issues early. Speed is crucial in medicine and the sooner a problem can be identified, the sooner treatment can begin.

In a more general sense, wearables encourage healthier lifestyles. Healthier individuals are less likely to visit their GPs, further reducing the pressure on general practice.

4.      Social Distancing

Enforcing social distancing in practices has become increasingly important in recent months. Triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely social distancing measures will remain, in some form, for years to come. Not only to safeguard against future outbreaks but to protect patients and staff from contagions of all types.

Maintaining social distancing in a general practice is challenging. A good first step is to reduce the number of chairs in patient waiting rooms and stagger appointments (where possible) to prevent backlogs.

General practices can also encourage social distancing by:

  • Performing remote consultations
  • Creating separate entrances to improve patient flow
  • Establishing “overflow” waiting rooms during busy periods
  • Using digital displays to provide healthcare information (rather than shared pamphlets)

Technology can support all these efforts.

Digital solutions, including mobile check-in and online patient registration, help minimise physical interactions between patients and staff. Doctors can also diagnose issues before the patient enters the building with pre-screening measures. This could be done remotely, using video software, or via an exterior screening station.

A Technology-driven Healthcare Revolution

It’s no coincidence that the most important general practice trends revolve around technology.

Today’s patients are more technologically-minded and independent than previous generations. Far from resisting innovations like mobile check-in and telehealth, they’re open to anything that promises to streamline the patient experience. Especially if it also gives them greater control over treatment plans.

Now, general practices need to adapt to changing attitudes. Doing so will ease the pressure on doctors and improve the overall standard of care they can offer.

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