Could hybrid working help tackle the UK’s GP shortage?

Chris Edwards, Business Development Team Manager, Virgin Media O2 Business.

With the amount of pressure Covid-19 put on the health sector, you would have expected employee satisfaction to decrease in the past 18 months.

Yet our recent report with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) suggests the opposite.

In fact, employee satisfaction increased by more than 5%.

And healthcare employees aren’t just more satisfied – they’re almost 7% more productive as well. And all of this has led to a more than 7% increase in patient satisfaction too.

So why are these numbers going up?

To answer that question you only have to look at what’s changed since the days before Covid-19.

Infographic that shows key areas for digital investment within the heath sector.

When you look at two of those stats together – digital delivery of services and remote working technology – you can start to see why satisfaction levels have increased for both patients and staff.

The ability to use healthcare services without physically needing to be in the same room saves everyone time and effort. It makes the whole experience easier and frankly a lot less daunting.

But could it really attract more people into the GP profession?

Understanding the scale of the problem

While the UK population is increasing, the number of GPs is falling, and demand for appointments is higher than it was before the pandemic, according to recent figures.

So what is causing this extra pressure?

Many people took government advice on board and chose not to ‘burden the system’ in the early months of the pandemic – 42% of people who said they needed a GP appointment in the past year avoided making one, according to BMJ’s latest GP Patient Survey.

Now, however, the tables are turning. Because asking people to avoid care inevitably has long-term consequences. And according to the BMJ, those consequences are now hitting people in deprived areas the hardest.

All of this is creating plenty of negative media attention too.

You only have to search ‘GP appointments’ in Google News to see headlines like ‘Mum dies while waiting two hours on phone for doctor’s appointment’, while a recent BBC News article talks about patients ‘competing’ for appointments in Wales the second the phone lines open.

And senior doctors recently warned that practice staff and GPs are quitting after "an unprecedented and escalating wave of abuse from patients that has followed weeks of public pressure over face-to-face appointments.”

You don’t have to be an expert on healthcare to understand the gravity of this situation.

So where do we go from here? And how can Covid-driven digital change begin to counter this problem?

A chance to do things better than before

Before March 2020, hybrid working – i.e. a mix of remote and on-site work – wasn’t a viable option for most GPs.

IT infrastructure was too archaic and implementing any new technology was far too complicated. And many patients simply weren’t comfortable with the idea of skipping physical consultations for virtual ones.

But the pandemic made it a necessity, prompting a widespread shift to hybrid working.

Decision-makers invested in collaboration tools, cloud services, IT equipment and cybersecurity to create an environment in which their employees can thrive.

For many practitioners, remote delivery of care allowed them to continue vital services like GP appointments or mental health support accessibly and safely.

Spend increase on hybrid working technologies in the health sector during the pandemic: Collaboration tools (14.7%), IT equipment (14.3%), Cloud services (13.3%), Cybersecurity (7.2%)

But digital change isn’t just making life easier for patients – it’s allowing GPs to work in a way they never could before.

They can now serve patients remotely, for example, allowing GPs to build their working day around their home lives much more easily and removing the need to commute every day.

In fact, our Cebr research found that UK employees have about two hours of extra free time a day on average thanks to hybrid working.

If the health sector can make these benefits clear to potential employees, it might have a chance of enticing more people into the GP profession.

 Infographic that shows top reasons for making change in hybrid working policies permanent.

So how can GP practices and other healthcare organisations make sure new ways of working are effective, not just today but in the months and years to come?

The key to successful hybrid working in healthcare

The health sector will always be under pressure to do more with less. Future investments will be monitored carefully and budgets always run the risk of being cut.

But the sector has come so far on its transformation journey already.

More satisfied patients, happier and more productive employees, a sense of confidence in digital technology among leaders (and more important, patients) – the benefits span beyond the workplace and into our society and economy.

Our Cebr research proves that digital adoption has created a healthier, happier nation with more time on its hands to look after others.

But the transformation doesn’t end here. Systems need to become more robust to protect precious patient data in the future. And IT issues still prevail.

In light of all this, there are some essentials that every organisation must put in place:

  • Investment in core infrastructure and systems to support applications for a flexible workforce, and improve delivery of digital-first services
  • Continued investment in collaboration technologies to empower your staff to overcome your new everyday challenges such as virtual consultations

Want to know how you can make the most of these opportunities?

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