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Coronavirus / Health service will ‘never be the same’ after coronavirus

HEALTHCARE in Shetland – at least for Lerwick – will never be the same once things return to a “new normal” according to leading figures at Lerwick GP practice.

Speaking during NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson’s regular broadcast on Facebook, Lerwick practice manager Adam Czarnobay and GP Dylan Murphy said that Covid-19 had accelerated the use of new technology that has cut patient waiting times.

Lerwick is the first practice in Shetland to use the askmyGP platform which allows patients to message the practice instead of joining lengthy phone queues. The system is said to be simple to use, saves time and has received a 96 per cent approval rating from those using it.

Prior to use of askmyGP some patients in Lerwick’s 8,600 long practice register were having to wait up to four weeks to see a doctor.

Phones had been “ringing off the hook” on Monday mornings, but that has now “drastically reduced.”

Lerwick Health Centre manager Adam Czarnobay.Lerwick Health Centre manager Adam Czarnobay.

The platform helps point patients in the right clinical direction, or triage, whereas before, some might be referred to two or three advanced nurse practitioners before seeing the appropriate health professional.

Czarnobay said that the use of something like askmyGP had been spoken about for two years. It can also be used to order repeat prescriptions.

Its use is of course optional and patients can also phone the health centre.

But according to Murphy, the system was a “big benefit” to many patients as GPs could get a clear idea of the problem was before even having seen the patient.

Patients can contact the surgery through askmyGP at 9pm and the GP can be reading the message at 9am.

Other technologies have come into play like Near Me, which allows video consultations or meetings between doctors and staff.

Lerwick GP Dylan Murphy during Wednesday night’s Facebook broadcast.

Murphy said that Covid-19 had pushed medics into having “virtual” meetings which were now the norm. Before the extra impetus of coronavirus, doctors had been “too busy seeing patients” to implement the IT.

He said that the whole experience of Covid-19 had been “very different and has helped us focus on things.”

He added that advanced care plans for vulnerable patients could be drawn up using a smart phone.

The balance of consultations had moved from 90 per cent face to face with 10 per cent over the phone to the other way round.

“Primary care will never look like it did a few months ago,” said Murphy. “I am really hoping we do not go back to the old days of four week waits for appointments,” he said.

“If we can try and meet the on the day demand by getting the right person to see the patient at the right time, maybe this is the new normal.”

According to Czarnobay, changes to the practice environment because of the pandemic, like socially distanced seating, had come at a time that was “quite scary” and health personnel had feared being engulfed by a tsunami of cases.