Instead of opting for a single solution to digital first primary care, CCGs must provide a range of solutions to meet the needs of both patients and healthcare professionals, says Dr Martin Godfrey

Henry Ford famously offered his customers “a car painted any colour he wants so long as it is black”. The one-size-fits-all solution may have suited early 20th century motor manufacturers but there can be few examples through time where the end user is happy as a result.

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Amazingly today we risk the same scenario developing in general practice with many clinical commissioning groups opting for a single digital solution to their Digital First primary care needs. The reason? Well, mainly expediency.

As we all know, the NHS is now promoting an improved patient experience through the online ability to manage appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their medical record.

In addition to this, a national programme of work started in 2017-18 to support practices (with their CCGs) to offer digital solutions to patients alongside face-to-face services.

Many CCGs began the process of assessing the many online consultation providers through pilots with a trajectory to work with maybe two or three.

However the arrival of the long-term plan and the unexpected appearance of the new GP contract and subsequent accelerator programmes threw planning for a multiplatform approach into disarray.

The reality now is that many CCGs are opting for a single provider warts and all, often chosen in haste without truly assessing what else is on the market.

At the current stage of development, no one platform offers all the solutions that a patient or practice may need or desire

Its clear that many people do want access to online consultations. An albeit small study by Healthwatch Enfield, in their recent report, Using technology to ease the burden on primary care found that in terms of the potential solutions that could ease the burden on primary care 60 per cent said having a GP appointment via video calling services such as Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp would be welcomed.

This same report highlighted that when it comes to accessing NHS services online, respondents want a simplified registration process and a user-friendly interface among other things such as a wider range of appointment types being available.

However at the current stage of development, no one platform offers all the solutions that a patient or practice may need or desire.

For example, some have great user interfaces, but no video, others have great video but no symptom checkers and so on. At this early stage in development, the last thing the NHS, CCGs or patients need is to be boxed into one, flawed solution.

Ultimately it comes down to patient choice – patients and carers, GPs and all the other healthcare professionals will have a wide variety of needs. They need a palette of solutions that work well, as and when they need them.

CCGs must ensure this palette can be made available in many “colours”, not just in “black”. 

Johan Gustafsson 3x2

The key issue here is one of choice. As CCGs move quickly to hit the April 2021 contract deadline where ‘every patient will have the right to online and video consultation’, the knee jerk desire to go with the expedient solution and lock in with them must be resisted. Competition is good. Multiple suppliers is good. Diversity is good. As we move forward, all you need is a supplier who can integrate and you don’t need to cherry pick; you will be able to provide a solution for your patients and practices that will deliver the best for all of them.

Johan Gustafsson is chief executive of Visiba Care