The pros and cons of remote working have been in discussion for years. While some organisations have been able to offer employees a more flexible work/life balance, within the NHS patient expectations regarding face-to-face consultations have challenged any significant change in working practice. People expect to see a GP and that direct contact has always been a fundamental component of the clinician: patient relationship.
The situation has, of course, changed fundamentally. COVID 19 has precipitated the most extraordinary social experiment, with vast swathes of the global workforce now working remotely for the first time.
At Vision, we have been able to mobilise the entire company, thanks to the dedication of our IT team and the robust business continuity plan that was already in place as part of our ISO certification.
All Cegedim employees are now working remotely, with zero interruption to critical services, despite the high levels of demand for service and support from customers in Pharmacy & GP practices. We are redeploying staff from quieter areas to balance workload and putting flexible working arrangements in place to support areas of high demand and extended support hours.
Remote working works.
GPs, understandably, want to be part of this home working revolution – not least those inspired by the TeamGPvCovid19 campaign which resulted in the number of GPs volunteering their spare time to help NHS 111 manage calls doubling overnight. Given the now default use of telephone and video for initial patient consultations to minimise face to face contact, it makes far more sense for GPs – many of whom are also juggling the challenges of children at home – to be able to work remotely.
Furthermore, the Royal College of Physicians is reporting that 25 per cent of doctors are off work, and the Royal College of Nursing claims absence rates of about 20 per cent - both due to illness and self-isolation. Remote working is in many ways, the only way to keep services running and patients informed.
Of course, GPs have been pushing for this flexibility for years – a study in 2018 confirmed that almost half (49%) of doctors felt that current work demands were unsustainable, with 45% saying that remote working was a sensible solution.
Clinicians also felt it would make time spent with patients more productive: 43% of doctors said remote working would ultimately allow them to spend longer with their patients. In comparison, 48% said being able to take patient calls outside of the office would lead to more personalised care. One London practice was hoping to offer an additional 5,000 patient appointments annually as a result of allowing its GPs to work from home for an additional two hours a week.
Vision Enabled Remote Working
Many of these remote working initiatives have stalled – until now. Given the extraordinary pace of change within NHS service delivery as a result of COVID 19, it is clearly time to push forward with innovations such as remote working.
There are, however, specific challenges surrounding GP practices that need be considered – from communicating with the team to ensuring timely knowledge sharing between GP practices and the CCGs. Given the fast-changing situation with regards to the availability of services, rapid communication between all providers is essential if GPs are to be able to provide patients with accurate information as to the timing of services, from blood tests to scans and operations, in the future.
Information transfer is key and as it also includes patient information, demands high levels of security.
To support our GP Practices, we are running a series of remote working webinars which will cover team communication, resource sharing, technology essentials and advice on efficient remote working practices. The first remote working webinar is for customers in Wales, dates for Scotland, England and Northern Ireland will be published soon.
Planning for a Flexible Future
While the NHS will remain in firefighting mode for the next few months, it is also important to consider how the rapid, enforced changes in operating practice will affect day to day processes in the future. There is no doubt that the way clinicians and patients interact will be changed fundamentally as a result of COVID 19.
Digital channels are becoming more important, and patients are being educated in the value and convenience of arms’ length consultations. Our webinar will also consider the future of day to day working for GPs, including the use of remote working, and how plans made today to cope with the crisis will influence working lives in the future.
Click here for more information and advice on remote working.