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New study on the impact of digital health tools in primary care

5 September 2018

A new study exploring the unexpected consequences of the use of digital health tools in primary care has been awarded funding by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Primary Care Research. The research team from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, Manchester, Warwick, University College London and the West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) will use a variety of approaches and methods to understand the impact of these tools, which include online patient portals and health monitoring apps.

Digital technologies are often seen as a means of improving patient access to healthcare and quality of care, while reducing GP practice workload. But despite becoming increasingly commonplace in GP practices, their unexpected consequences for patients and staff, both positive and negative, remain unknown.

The study, called DECODE: unexpected consequences of digital health, will examine the unexpected consequences of these technologies for patients, GPs and practice staff for three popular applications in GP practices:

  • Smartphone apps that support patients to monitor and self-manage long-term conditions with their GP
  • Online GP consultations
  • Online patient access to medical records

The team will interview patients, practice staff, commissioners and industry representatives that have been involved in implementing digital health tools, to examine their experiences, opinions and reflections. They will investigate how technology affects access to healthcare, medical decision-making, patient safety, doctor-patient relations and GP practice workload.

Dr Jeremy Horwood, from NIHR CLAHRC West and the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, who is leading the study said:

“Like other parts of the NHS, GP practices are under financial pressure and need to develop innovative and efficient models of care. Policy makers see digital health tools as a solution to this problem. But the rapid spread of digital health tools means that unintended consequences are likely. It’s vital that we identify and understand these consequences so that we can minimise the negative effects and maximise the positive consequences for primary care.

“Our research will investigate the use of digital health tools in primary care from a range of perspectives, to inform guidance on their development and implementation.”

Further information

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care

The Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol is a leading centre for primary care research in the UK, one of nine forming the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. It sits within Bristol Medical School, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for population health research and teaching. Follow us on Twitter: @capcbristol.

About the National Institute for Health Research 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:

  • funds high quality research to improve health
  • trains and supports health researchers
  • provides world-class research facilities
  • works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • involves patients and the public at every step

For further information, visit the NIHR website

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