Digital access: shaping the future of primary health care
Using technology such as Skype, email or telephone calls to facilitate contact between patients and physicians is changing the way that patients access primary care. Whilst this has the potential to improve access for people living in rural areas and to help to ensure equitable access to health care services it also has the potential to create digital disparities in access. Current research suggests that younger professional females may use these services most, and there may be a rise in the number of contacts when e-access is provided.
There are many new communication methods available for patients registered with GP practices across the UK. However, the benefits to patients, and the potential reduction in costs for the NHS, from use of these new technologies is not clear. Whilst some general practices are embracing these technologies and conducting between one third and two-thirds of their transactions using digital media, the majority have not done so. Many general practitioners (GPs) are concerned that offering consultations via alternative technologies could increase their workloads.
There is scope to explore this topic using the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) a network and database of practices (and their patients) patients, which has been recruited to be nationally representative. The RCGP RSC network is one of the UK's freshest data sources uploading data twice per week. The RCGP RSC data and analytics hub is based in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and there is scope for working with practices, including providing online feedback via a dashboard, as well as working on our database.
The successful candidate will have access to clinical datasets housed by the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences; for example, there is the option to also use the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) database. They will study whether practices offering alternative modes of digital health access and interventions are associated with positive effects on the quality of care and can use national data to explore patient satisfaction, and at the same time assess whether they result in reductions in costs for the health care system and any differences in outcome in selected areas. There is the potential to look at change over time and variation between practices.
To date, assessments of these new digital technologies have been relatively scarce, and there has been a paucity of research that has considered the transformative aspects of healthcare delivery at organisational and operational levels. The candidate will be supervised by health economists and clinical informatician academic GPs within the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.