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A new study, DECODE (unexpecteD consEquenCes Of Digital hEalth), is aiming to improve how digital health tools are used in primary care by identifying and understanding their unexpected consequences for patients, GPs and practice staff.

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 (funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research) is a collaboration between University of Bristol and NIHR CLAHRC West, Universities of Oxford, Manchester, Warwick, University College London and the West of England Academic Health Science Network. It will examine three popular applications of technology 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 technology 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 the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol and NIHR CLAHRC West, 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.

Read more.