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Why general practice should embrace the NHS App

Practices will reap the benefits of new technology like the NHS App, says health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy 

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Every day, medical innovation transforms and enhances lives, and in my role as health minister I am fortunate enough to hear about it first-hand.

From robotic surgery to world-leading research into genomic medicine, the NHS is regularly at the frontier of new medicine.

But despite this excellence, our health service has a chequered history when it comes to technology. We don’t always embrace the disruptive, and as the fourth largest employer in the world, the NHS has a duty to make sure we are always looking forward, to keep pace with a society that is increasingly reliant on smartphone technology to manage every aspect of our lives.

That’s why last year the health secretary pledged that patients across the country would have access to an integrated smartphone app to organise their most common health and care needs.

The app has the potential to transform the way we access medical advice and support from GPs

By the end of this year, the NHS App will give patients the ability to contact NHS 111, view personal health records, book GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions – all from their handsets. The app, once deployed, will also allow patients to express or change their organ donation preferences, set data sharing controls, and access support for long term conditions.

I’m pleased to say we are on track to honour that pledge. Comprehensive testing and user analysis means that soon patients will be downloading and using the NHS app as part of a beta phase, giving them access to all these core services in a way that is fast, efficient and intuitive.

Developed by NHS Digital, the app will be available through the Apple Store, Google Play for free. Once installed, all users have to do is sign up for an NHS account to get going. They can then manage their ‘medical life’ at the touch of a screen and the swipe of a finger.

The app has the potential to transform the way we access medical advice and support from GPs.  As a time saver alone, it could alleviate the frustrations encountered by patients who traditionally call or visit often busy local practices for routine requests.

On the clinical side, GPs and their practice staff should also welcome its arrival – another technological advance freeing up time to address more urgent and complex patient needs.

In time, we hope the app, in tandem with other innovations, eases pressures on community and A&E services.

This is another expression of our rights as citizens in a modern, progressive society.  It means more power to patients, giving them the tools to control how their data is used, and how they interact with the health service.

However, we know that an app-first approach won’t suit everyone. It is not a replacement for existing routes to GPs and other clinical services. It is another means by which patients, their carers and advocates can get the help they need when they need it

Our health is a fundamental part of our lives, and it should be integrated into the way we now run those lives: digital-first and patient-led. 

Lord O'Shaughnessy is parliamentary under-secretary of state for health (Lords)



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Readers' comments (2)

  • Is it asking too much that you think for a few seconds before trumpeting your master's latest distraction?

    The history of UK General Practice has been one of innovation and development especially in IT. It has worked much more effectively in the UK because it has been championed by small independent businesses. These have had an incentive to make and then evolve systems which actually work.

    At the time in the 90s, development has seemed slow, but the electronic records in general practice are patient centred in a way the the fortune spent on the NHS IT project never could. Even now 20-30 years later hospital IT is a long way behind.

    This announcement is nothing of the sort. The ability to access appointments on line is already in place. The aim of this announcement is therefore not to inform the public about its existence.

    What is the reason? Could it be to have a 'good news' story to help celebrate 70 years of the NHS. 70+ years of opposition to publicly funded accessible equity driven health care delivery from the conservative party and from money/profit driven individuals.

    Government ministers are responsible to the crown and to the people. They are not supposed to be responsible to a small group of wealthy companies, and individuals. Those elected representatives may claim accountability, but the upper chamber is supposed to champion experience, and wisdom.

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  • Dear Mr O'Shaughnessy,
    instead of cheap, superficial, instant gratification crowd pleasing gimmicks, it would be nice for just once if you could focus on what is actually needed-proper long term investment in the premises and health care staff who actually make up primary care.

    I won't even start on the fact this sort of technology will be utterly useless to the many thousands of elderly, confused, non English speaking and non smart phone owning (yes, it may be hard for you to comprehend but some people are too poor to own a smart phone) patients.
    As stated above, general practice has always been way ahead of hospitals in our adoption of
    technology and we are not 'scared' of it, but in our lifetime there will be no technology that can replace a human listening to a chest, palpating an abdomen or performing a rectal examination.
    In case you didn't know and I suspect from your blog you are not aware, it is this sort of work which occupies most of our days, not staring at smart phones.
    Kind regards
    Dr David Turner
    ( A coal face GP,who is lucky enough to live in the real world)

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