Using new technologies in primary care

Some nurses and patients may hesitate to use new technology for remote healthcare, but it can mean less anxiety, better symptom control and timely intervention, improving patient confidence and quality of care while avoiding unnecessary surgery attendances.

Some nurses and patients may hesitate to use new technology for remote healthcare, but it can mean less anxiety, better symptom control and timely intervention, improving patient confidence and quality of care while avoiding unnecessary surgery attendances

Far from detracting from face-to-face consultations, technology can provide
extra support and build confidence. Picture: iStock

Technologies such as telehealth, apps and Skype act as a continuum of professional healthcare, and should never detract from face-to-face consultation. They work as a link, providing extra support and building confidence. They often result in less anxiety, better symptom control and timely intervention.

Nurses cite many reasons not to use new technologies:

‘I don’t like change’

Growing demands of complex long-term conditions (LTCs) in our expanding older population mean we are expected to provide the extra care and monitoring needed with less time for practical tasks. How do we cope with this demand and provide patient-centred care?

We all use new technologies daily. Introduce the new way of ‘thinking and doing’ slowly so that your confidence in the process works and you will quickly realise that technology is a tool you can use.

'My patients won’t be able to do it’

Many older people have a mobile phone or tablet. Use of technology is the norm, and we should not underestimate a patient’s ability to do so. The protocols used in the NHS text-messaging service Flo are basic and easily picked up.

Once they get used to it, patients who may have felt isolated start to send texts to family or friends, maintaining contacts outside their immediate surroundings. It is also rare for someone to have no access to the signal needed.

‘How can technology provide a better service than I can personally?’

Look on technology as an extension of the care you give. I liken it to an elastic band that links you and the patient when they have left the surgery. You will still have consultations, but these tools mean fewer surgery visits with equal input, resulting in a better service for the patient and freeing up appointment times.

Technology relies on your professional knowledge. It is there to support the advice and care that you give to patients with LTCs.

‘What benefits does it have for the patient?’

Use of the technologies builds up the patient’s confidence in co-managing LTCs. The information given is current and correct. Patients are only able to retain small amounts of information given by a health professional, especially when they are newly diagnosed and perhaps feeling a bit overwhelmed.

The ‘Manage Your Health App’ is free to use, easily understood and well-accepted by patients of all ages.

‘What proof do we have that this works for our patient?’

Technology can have a positive impact on the patient’s well-being, as these examples show:

Ann Hughes

A patient was distressed because planned cataract surgery could not proceed as her blood pressure was elevated. We were asked to monitor her and inform the hospital pre-assessment team if it became more stable.

The patient opted for Flo. As her practice nurse, I monitored the outcome. In three days we had enough readings within normal limits. These were faxed through to the team and the operation went ahead on the scheduled day. This had a massive impact on her quality of life.

Making a difference

Over a two-month period a patient with shortness of breath had called on paramedics many times, been taken to A&E and had two in-patient stays to control her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She was very anxious, and her health issues were affecting her quality of life.

I talked to her about trying Flo and gave her a SATS monitor, thermometer and rescue medicines. She had to send in oxygen saturation readings and sputum colour every morning. Depending on the outcome, Flo asked her to send in further data. I could see that her readings were stable.

She has only attended the surgery once in the 12 months since starting to use Flo – it has changed her life. She had been afraid to exert herself prior to starting with Flo, but now uses an exercise cycle at home every day. She helps her daughter with washing dishes and tidying, has joined the local darts team and manages her condition well.

Isn’t this what we all want to do – make a difference to patients needing extra support?

Benefits of Flo

Skype consultations enable nurses to contact patients who find it difficult to attend for annual LTC review, due to work commitments or being housebound. No one need be excluded from the support and reassurance of their nurse when we have the tools to overcome these hurdles.

Flo is a simple system that has many uses. These technologies can improve patient confidence and improve quality of care while avoiding unnecessary surgery attendances. This benefits the patient and the healthcare team.

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