Babylon Health’s ‘GP at hand’ not at hand for NHS England–yet. When will technology be? Is Carillion’s collapse a spanner in the works?

NHS England won’t be rolling out the Babylon Health ‘GP at hand’ service anytime soon, despite some success in their London test with five GP practices [TTA 12 Jan]. Digital Health cites an October study by Hammersmith and Fulham CCG (Fulham being one of the test practices) that to this Editor expresses both excitement at an innovative approach but with the same easy-to-see drawback:

The GP at Hand service model represents an innovative approach to general practice that poses a number of challenges to existing NHS policy and legislation. The approach to patient registration – where a potentially large volume of patients are encouraged to register at a physical site that could be a significant distance from both their home and work address, arguably represents a distortion of the original intentions of the Choice of GP policy. (Page 12)

There are also concerns about complex needs plus other special needs patients (inequality of service), controlled drug policy, and the capacity of Babylon Health to expand the service. Since the October report, a Babylon spokesperson told Digital Health that “Commissioners have comprehensively signed off our roll-out plan and we look forward to working with them to expand GP at Hand across the country.” 

Re capitation, why ‘GP at hand’ use is tied into a mandatory change of GP practices has left this Editor puzzled. In the US, telemedicine visits, especially the ‘I’ve got the flu and can’t move’ type or to specialists (dermatology) are often (not always) separate from whomever your primary care physician is. Yes, centralizing the records winds up being mostly in the hands of US patients unless the PCP is copied or it is part of a payer/corporate health program, but this may be the only way that virtual visits can be rolled out in any volume. In the UK, is there a workaround where the patient’s electronic record can be accessed by a separate telemedicine doctor?

Another tech head-shaker: 45 percent of GPs want technology-enabled remote working. 48 percent expressed that flexible working and working from home would enable doctors to provide more personalized care. Allowing remote working to support out-of-hours care could not only free up time for thousands of patient appointments but also level out doctor capacity disparities between regions. The survey here of 100 GPs was conducted by a cloud-communications provider, Sesui. Digital Health. This is a special need that isn’t present in the US except in closed systems like the VA, which is finally addressing the problem. The wide use of clinical connectivity apps enables US doctors to split time from hospital to multiple practices–so much so on multiple devices, that app security is a concern. 

Another head-shaker. 48 percent of missed NHS hospital appointments are due to letter-related problems, such as the letter arriving too late (17 percent), not being received (17 percent) or being lost (8 percent). 68 percent prefer to manage their appointments online or via smartphone. This preference has real financial impact as the NHS estimates that 8 million appointments were missed in 2016-2017, at a cost of £1bn. Now this survey of 2,000 adults was sponsored by Healthcare Communications, a provider to 100 NHS trusts with patient communications technology, so there’s a dog in the hunt. However, they developed for Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust a digital letter technology that is claimed to reduce outpatient postal letters by 40 percent. Considering my dentist sends me three emails plus separate text messages before my twice-yearly exam…. Release (PDF).

Roy Lilley’s daily newsletter today also engages the Tech Question and the “IT desert” present in much of the daily life of the NHS. Trusts are addressing it, junior doctors are WhatsApping, and generally, clinicians are hot-wiring the system in order to get anything done. It is much like the US about five to seven years ago where US HHS had huge HIPAA concerns about mobile, texting, and emails until ways were found to secure them–usually. (For US readers, the analogy of ‘Life on Mars’ to the NHS = TV show about a modern-day policeman transported back to 1973–the year your Editor first visited the UK.) Mr. Lilley cites ten organizations in a RAND Europe list driving NHS innovation at a cost of £89 million….someone’s making money somewhere. 

Updated: What didn’t make enough money to stay solvent was Carillion, known in most of the world as a construction company but also a major provider of NHS facility services such as cleaning and catering–among over 450 UK government projects. Sandwell and West Birmingham Trust’s new partly-built £350m hospital is one (HSJ, paywalled). It is being liquidated with £900 million ($1.2 billion) in debt and a £587 million ($808 million) pension deficit. What will happen to the NHS is anyone’s guess as employees are being told to go to work, but the spectre of nationalization, temporary or not, is being raised for certain services.  Fortune   New–Lloyds Bank is backing up small contractors affected by Carillion’s bankruptcy with a £50m fund (BBC). Will it rip the veil off of the Private Finance Initiatives which sound fairly dodgy–not full privatization, nor cheaper, and leaving the government holding the bag–a bad deal all around it seems to this capitalist Editor. (The Independent). But at least patients are being fed those 18,500 meals per day, as NHS had contingency plans (The Caterer, hat tip to Roy Lilley)!

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