June 17, 2024

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How to implement the digital front door

3 min read

Front doors representing digital front door

Embarking on a journey centred around patient well-being, NAPC explores the implementation of the ‘digital front door’ in healthcare. Deputy CE Katrina Percy and digital programme members Sura Al-Qasaab and Joanna Fox outline the steps to its successful implementation, shedding light on its successes, challenges, and the potential landscape of the future.

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on NAPC

So, what is a digital front door? It can be described as a digital platform or interface, a route of accessing care for patients in a streamlined way who may then be signposted onto other forms of care. It’s the first entry point into accessing care and information, the NHS app is a good example. The app has multiple functions both for practices enabling them to send reminders and messages to patients, and for patients who have a tool to book repeat prescriptions, refer to medical records (if previously arranged with the practice) and receive those important blood test results and reminders about appointments and vaccinations.

Katrina makes the point that it could be said that in the past, the patient journey has been quite passive; therefore, this is supporting and encouraging the patient to change and will activate the individual and allow them to take control, rather than being passive and waiting for someone in the practice to send through their results. This shift of emphasis encourages the patient to be more proactive.

To encourage the adoption of health technology, we should encourage all staff members within practices to challenge their cognitive bias on who they think may or may not be suitable to use technology; we should challenge and test our own assumptions rather than fall back on our own bias. Many people with long-term conditions have been using remote testing digital technology from the comfort of their living room and sending the results through to the practice. The key is to explore how much or how little patients want to use technology and respond accordingly. Some people are not always comfortable with a digital option, but it is our responsibility to make it so accessible and useful that it becomes the preferred option.

Adapting to new ways of working using technology needs careful planning and enough time devoted to support staff. Working with colleagues across Northwest London, Sura describes how they ensured clinical safety both for patients and staff by demonstrating how the technology supports both clinical and non-clinical staff to do a better job and provides safe services across 300 practices in 8 boroughs to a population of 2.8 million people with very diverse needs.   Exploring where additional checks and balances where needed to optimise even further was also essential. To do this, action learning sets were offered to staff and have been key in establishing peer support. It was an opportunity to share how the technology is used differently and is operationalised for and across these populations. There is inevitable differences between practices and it is evident that there is a need to understand wraparound clinical processes to support people, as there is always an element of human interaction with the technology and seeing it as an evolution- its not about just flicking a switch. Not all staff are automatically completely confident and one important factor is investing in staff development to get the most out of the tools.

Technology is moving at a very fast pace, so in 5-10 years, the digital front door will be the norm, with technology being much more interactive – it will be interesting to see to what extent AI and Chat GPT can feed information through to the patients without even having to go through the front door. A much smarter use of technology in health care and across the system with other anchor institutions is inevitable.

While technology propels healthcare into the future, the essence remains rooted in human interactions and the collaborative efforts of the workforce. Practice managers can leverage insights from NAPC’s digital front door journey to enhance patient engagement, streamline healthcare access, and strategically implement technology, fostering a proactive and patient-centric approach within their practices.

Read the full NAPC report here.

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