Empowering patients by providing a digital front door for primary care

7th July 2022

Digital technology is transforming how patients and health professionals interact. As a result, primary care is moving towards a digital first approach, where patients can easily access the advice, support and treatment they need using digital and online tools. 

In April, we launched our Digital Pioneers programme to support this agenda in the North East and North Cumbria. The programme creates opportunities for collaboration, education and innovation.

Next up in our Digital Pioneers blog series is Paul Gibson, Head of Digital Development at North East & North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, working in Sunderland. Paul discusses how primary care is empowering patients to use digital to improve their own health and access to healthcare services.

He explains more about our new Digital Champions education programme, which helps the primary care workforce to improve their own digital skills and support patients.

Digital First Primary Care is not all about technology. It equally needs people and processes to be developed if we are to solve some of the increasingly demanding problems and pressures for primary care.

One of our main challenges remains the mass adoption and use of digital channels of communication by our patients, who experience the rush for face-to-face appointments on a regular basis.

Improving access to the right information where face-to-face appointments are not always needed is one of our priorities. We don’t want patients to visit their practice websites to find the phone number to book an appointment in the morning rush. Instead, we wish to enable patients to use their practice websites, health and wellness hubs, and the NHS App, as a first port of call for:

  • Preventative advice and guidance along with tools and resources to support joint decision making.
  • Self-care advice and appropriate access to self-referral and pharmacy services.
  • Access to social prescribing advice.
  • Online consultations for those scenarios.
  • Online booking for appointments and repeat prescription ordering.
  • Signposting to other trusted health and care service advice.

Several projects are underway to develop online tools for patients. We hope that these will define a robust standard which meets patient’s expectations and can be built upon. The tools will remove much of the demand for face-to-face appointments by empowering patients to access information and resources to help with their health and care needs.

To support the primary care workforce in this process, we are delivering a new training programme which will provide staff with the right skills to become digital champions in their organisation.

Anyone working in primary care can sign up to the Digital Champions programme, a free 12 month course to help grow knowledge and share experiences with others. We are excited to see how the programme evolves. Champions will play a key role in the channel shift by getting practices ready to offer digital services to patients.

Find out more about the Digital Champions programme and how to register your interest here.