Medical technology can help primary care manage patient demand and make the NHS more efficient, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, a healthcare technology expert has said.
Speaking at Management in Practice’s virtual festival last week (22 October), Dr Hussain Gandhi, Nottingham GP and tech entrepreneur, said primary care has undergone years’ worth of change in just a matter of weeks as a result of the pandemic.
He added that clinicians could further adapt their response by adopting certain pieces of medical technology, such as remote monitoring equipment, smart devices and virtual reality.
Dr Gandhi said: ‘The humble stethoscope is one I’ve been talking about a lot lately, but it’s one with Bluetooth added onto it, and this has made it a revolutionary piece of equipment.
‘It means we can do home visits with patients remotely by simply having one of the care home attendants place it on a patient under our instruction. This can sometimes help give valuable information as to whether or not that person is okay, needs a face-to-face visit or to be admitted.’
This can also save GPs time, he added, by allowing them to see multiple patients in rapid succession, without worrying about transfer time, and, more importantly, helps with infection control.
Dr Gandhi predicted that point-testing equipment that can be used by patients, similar to blood glucose meters, is another area that is likely to see ‘interesting developments’.
He said: ‘This is the rapid testing analysis we have been waiting for, that will help us get back to normal life, and there are multiple conditions we can look at.’
Teledermatology is also an easily applicable piece of technology that could help GP practices ‘streamline’ the care they can offer, he added.
‘Why not have systems whereby you can send images directly to the dermatology consultants, so you get a rapid understanding of, for example, whether or not a particular lesion is concerning, rather than patients waiting weeks or months to be seen,’ Dr Gandhi said
‘This can also make sure that the right patients are seen in the clinic, at the right time and therefore makes that process a lot easier for them.’
Dr Gandhi went on to say that smart devices – including watches that measure readings such as pulse oximetry, rate and blood pressure – is one area that is going to see a massive expansion.
He said: ‘This will help patients monitor and understand their own health, and what if we can help them do that more effectively, for example around managing high blood pressure?’
Patients could also use the devices to keep health diaries or make medication reminders, which may lead to better outcomes if supported by clinicians, Dr Gandhi added, but he warned there are still questions around how to keep information safe and not increase practice workload further.
Virtual reality and AI
Dr Gandhi also talked about virtual reality and how this is ‘a lot more accessible’ than people think, because people can use a simple smartphone to engage with virtual reality systems.
He said there are already examples where this has been adopted in healthcare, including VR headsets being used to help patients relax before having a phlebotomy without the need for anesthetics.
This can particularly help in engaging with patients who have learning disabilities or mental health problems, he added.
‘There are some really good pilots that are looking at using the VR experience in pulmonary rehabilitation. This means that those patients who normally wouldn’t attend their appointments because it’s too challenging for them, can dial in, and as a result, get their [condition] facilitated by a clinician, easily and effectively,’ he said.
‘I think VR is going to change a lot more than people think in the coming times. I think part of it has probably been slowed down by Covid, because we’ve had less opportunity to test it out as we’re focused on other things.’
Dr Gandhi concluded that AI could never replace doctors, but that it will help to give more information and detail on how to assess and understand individual patients.