Greater Manchester

Greater Manchester Digital First Primary Care

Optimising the use of digital tools to improve patient access and manage capacity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, general practice and primary care rapidly rolled out digital solutions and tech innovations to enable patients to continue to access care and support online access, triage and consultations.

GP practices adopted virtual appointments, including over video or telephone, online consultations and the ability to make requests for sick notes or repeat prescriptions online. Practices also used online triage – a process allowing patients to request help from their GP practice by completing a short form online, which is then assessed by a practice clinician to offer the right care, including organising an appointment, referral to other services or self-care.

As the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt, primary care faces significant and increasing demands from patients, care providers and the health and care system.

Optimising the use of these digital tools can support matching demand with capacity, managing workflows efficiently and delivering an effective digital experience for patients and service providers, while also continuing to offer face-to-face appointments.

Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and Health Innovation Manchester are coordinating a Greater Manchester-wide programme to continue to support primary care through digital.  It has been designed with digital and clinical colleagues across all GM localities and is being delivered on behalf of Greater Manchester Health and Care Digital Transformation Board, GP Provider Board and Primary Care Digital Board.

The programme aims to understand the current digital landscape within primary care, create a blueprint for using digital tools effectively and delivering changes and improvements at practice across GM to improve citizen access and capacity management.

It builds on earlier digital primary care work undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic by HInM and the GMHSC Partnership, which saw the creation of a digital primary care support package to support rapid deployment of new solutions and the transformational changes taking place. Read about our COVID-19 Digital Primary Care support project

A digital primary care outcomes framework was also developed, including a set of standards and outcomes which all practices should work towards, regardless of what digital products they have implemented. It was developed through a series of design workshops comprising representatives from across Greater Manchester including public members, GPs, practice managers, health and care managers and technical experts. As part of the Greater Manchester Digital First Primary Care programme it will be used to support practices to measure outcomes, set standards, monitor activity and performance and address issues. Read the digital primary outcomes framework “Improving Outcomes for citizens: A framework for transforming primary care through digital technology 2020/21 (PDF)”

Understand and Reimagine: Gaining insights into best practice and challenges of digital primary care

Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and Health Innovation Manchester are currently working with primary care providers in Greater Manchester to understand the use of digital technology. This includes discussions about the current best practice and the challenges faced by staff and patients – such as incoming demand, how workflows operate and how the tools are accessed by patients.

Using the insights and information gathered through the engagement process, a blueprint for optimised use of digital tools within primary care will be developed, including how to optimise triage and workflows, signpost patients and opportunism for improvement. GP practices across GM will then be supported to implement changes, deliver improvements and support patients.

This will ensure that the city-region is supported to progress from deploying the new technology to ensuring it is fully embedded and can improve outcomes for patients, primary care staff and the wider health and social care system.

A nurse holding a phone and an ipad/tablet.

Public Engagement

The programme has also engaged with members of the public within Greater Manchester to understand their experience of using digital tools to access primary care during the pandemic. This has been done through a series of panel discussion groups and accessibility & user testing of the digital primary care tools as well as gaining lived experiences of online access to primary care.

Results from the public engagement and user testing highlighted some positive experiences as well as areas for improvement within digital access to primary care.  While it is clear that digital tools can enhance patient experience by enabling flexibility, convenience and self-management, the rapid acceleration of online consultation platforms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also let to challenges and negative experiences for some.  Members of the public who took part in the panels and interviews highlighted that they are willing to adopt new behaviours and digital technologies if they see value and benefits, however they also have some concerns relating to inclusion, safety of the technology and communications from their GP practice.

These insights are being incorporated into the next stage of the Digital First Primary Care programme including development of a best practice blueprint and series of improvement project across Greater Manchester. Further public/patient engagement will take place as the programme continues.

This work also  builds on insights gathered by Health Innovation Manchester in 2020 to understand public attitudes to digital tools in primary care. Through workshops, a survey and other activities, more than 480 people across GM shared their thoughts about access GP services virtually, personalised care and digital inclusion. Read the report on our website

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