GPs are under increasing time pressure with recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics showing Australians are now visiting their GP in record numbers.
In 2016-17, Aussies averaged 6.1 visits per year, up from 5.4 times in 2010-11.
With such pressing demands on GP time and resources, there’s a real need to look for ways to improve and streamline the nature of general practice. This inevitably comes in the form of emerging technologies.
Here are a selection of new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on general practice in the not-too-distant future.
1. High tech transformation of the patient experience
Cast your mind to the future and your patient waiting room looks very different to what it does today. Patients no longer need to queue up to check in or out with a receptionist. They do so on either their smartphones as they arrive, or use one of your clinic’s digital kiosks.
They get a personalised digital hello and immediate access to their entire medical history via their virtual patient dashboard. The details of their scheduled appointment will appear and if they wish, they can add notes about their symptoms. This saves you valuable time and guesswork when you see them in person.
Previous results and diagnoses, medical management plans and current medications are all there right at their fingertips too. They’re even able to access your clinic’s secure payment gateway to process payments, and instantly get their Medicare rebate.
And it’s not just while they are at your clinic – they can tap into the system at any time on their phone. Built-in alerts remind patients to take medication, or book a follow-up visit.
This means that in the future, patients will have greater control over - and a say in - their healthcare; something that some patients are interested in right now.
The personal touch remains important however and clinics like ‘Next Practice’ have an excellent approach combining high tech solutions (including 3D touch screen education) with patient advocates ready to coordinate assistance and care both before and after GP consultations.
2. Patient wait times at clinics will be dramatically reduced
Wait times will be addressed using the same mechanism that offers huge potential to revolutionise your consult time. It’s all about electronic information gathering before the consult to optimise face-to-face time, for example:
- Pre-filled medical forms or care plans for patients with ongoing conditions
Using a handy app on their smartphone, patients access, fill out and upload forms before stepping foot into the clinic. All data travels virtually straight to you or the practice nurse and automatically uploads to your system, ready to review with just one mouse click. This allows you to make the most of your consultation, rather than spending time taking notes.
- Efficiencies in note-taking using a pre-filled consult questionnaire
Each patient is emailed a simple survey containing a series of dropdown menus and comment boxes to capture the reason for their upcoming visit. This is then emailed straight through to you to view before they visit, along with any data they wish to upload from their wearable devices (although integration is still some way off on this front).
This system gives you an overview of their health and reason for the visit. This allows you to make the most of your consult time, rather than spending half the session taking notes about symptoms and losing valuable patient connection along the way.
You might even consider bypassing all note-taking with a pair of Google Glasses – specs that stream audio and video to a remote scribe for you (with patient consent, of course). Interestingly, but the founder of Augmedix - the platform doctors use in conjunction with the glasses - says 98% of patients are happy to give consent.
Google is also currently working on a new language for AI-assisted note-taking that can predict notes for you based on your patient’s current medical record using their demographics, previous results, medications and past visits. They’ve found that much of the content doctors take down is based on common templates, after all, how many chest infections and sore throats have your diagnosed in your career?
It’s fairly easy to see how taking advantage of electronic information gathering means patients spend less time waiting to see you. But it’s also clear your consult time will be well utilised. You’ll be able to better use it to concentrate on your physical exam, explain conditions (perhaps via VR technology where the patient wears a headset and sees, for instance, a beating heart full of cholesterol as you discuss their condition) and talk about treatment options.
3. Wearable and implantable technology
Patients will be able to monitor themselves and feed this information back to you in real time. Both wearable and implantable technology are growing fields and now have the capacity to monitor blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rate and weight, as well as send reminders about medication or help with mental well-being.
Some examples of implantables are contact lenses that monitor blood glucose, smart pills that observe patients response to their new medication, or 'smart' tattoos that can track the progression of dermatological conditions and hopefully even interpret chemical information from the skin itself.
Some examples of wearables are watches or necklaces embedded with technology that alert patients to take their medication, or help Dementia or Alzheimer sufferers find their way if they become disoriented or lost.
Flurry Analytics recently found health and fitness app usage has grown by over 330% in the past three years, with over 20% of users using apps to monitor their general health, rather than just weight loss.
Using integrated technology, all of this valuable data loops back to your clinic directly from patient devices, or is uploaded on their next visit. With linkages that will exist between your clinic systems and patient devices (this technology is still in development), data can be analysed for you and results will be quickly transmitted to your PC/tablet. This may allow for more accurate diagnoses and enable you to consider a more targeted treatment.
4. Telehealth is set to grow in coming years
It’s already happening in many parts of rural Australia with online video GP consults. One interesting example is in a remote region of Western Australia where aged care provider, Silver Chain, are using a Microsoft HoloLens prototype headset for virtual visits. Nurses and doctors virtually connect with patients to discuss their care plans, as well as providing advice and care.
Artificial Intelligence offers much potential in these remote areas when access to general practitioners and specialists is extremely limited. AI tools can absorb and analyse vast amounts of datasets - such as reviewing skin lesions, radiographs, scans and ultrasonography results - and ultimately help GPs diagnose conditions with a high level of precision.
But there’s plenty of scope for virtual GPs in urban areas too. If you take a look at today’s patient list, it’s highly likely you could have seen around 10 to 20% of patients via video consult. Think about how much clinic time that would free up, and the amount of time patients wouldn’t need to spend travelling and waiting.
For example, for a possible case of suspected strep throat (which you already know about thanks to a pre-fill patient survey), a simple screenshot or photograph of the throat is all you need to diagnose. The patient then accesses a secure portal to download and fill out their prescription. If we’re in the year 2030, perhaps they even get their prescription delivered on demand within two hours by drone.
So with all this exciting technology at your fingertips, what’s the best way to take advantage of it to improve best practice in your clinic?
Perhaps it’s learning from peers already using tech in their practice, asking them what really works and what doesn’t. Or it might be attending seminars and conferences with a focus on technology and AI being utilised in general practice. Maybe it will come directly from suggestions from your patients themselves.
It might also be getting involved in clinical trials focused on technology, particularly those surrounding AI and Virtual Reality, as these offer potential to revolutionise the way you practice, now and in the future.
If you’re interested in becoming a GP that harnesses the power of tech to improve your patient outcomes, we’d love to help you find you a great clinic match.
Feel free to get in touch.