General practice has had to evolve during the course of the pandemic. Driven by an unseen virus, our worlds have been turned upside down. Almost overnight we had to fundamentally rethink how we delivered care. Or so it might have seemed… 

In fact, things haven’t changed so very much in General practice. Fundamentally, at the heart of what we do, is a conversation between two people. The form of this conversation has changed, but the function and need hasn’t.

We adopted tech at pace at the outset, in an attempt to keep our patients and ourselves safe. We started using tools like video calls, SMS messaging & online consultations. Taking them up helped align our clinical lives with the rest of our lives.  

Our tools, whether they are stethoscopes or health records need to be fashioned around our needs. Picking up a stethoscope, running my fingers over the bell and the twisty tubes to the ear pieces. I had several passed down to me from family generations before, their form changed little. Their function, to amplify the sounds of the heart, so we can listen out for any whooshing, unusual beats or irregularity. Does the heart sound ok?  

It’s easy to become tied to the current form of our tools. There are of course advances in digital stethoscopes, able to record & transmit sounds to listeners distant in time and place. But the fact that they haven’t replaced the traditional form, tells us that the old ones work just fine most of the time.   

The taken-for-granted nature of a stethoscope can remain, as long as its current form meets our needs. When this fails us though, we need to zoom out. Ask ourselves, not how could we differently configure bits of twisty tube & bells to improve our listening experience. Instead, I want to hear the heart sounds better, how could I do that?

The hardware of our trade, stethoscopes, tuning forks, thermometers & the like are increasingly matched in their significance by the software. Our IT allows us to order blood tests, prescribe medication & perhaps most importantly of all – speak with & capture our conversations with patients.  

The hardware of medicine once created, remains in that form, as long as it lasts. There’s little opportunity to fundamentally refashion a stethoscope after it’s been molded. The joy of software on the other hand, is that it can be near constantly updated.  When new needs emerge, software can be variably rebuilt, refashioned or tweaked to make it more helpful & powerful.  

Medical records can be optimised from where they have been. We can digitise paper.  But in doing so we would be limiting our thinking, constrained by old paper forms. What does a reimagined healthcare record look like? How could it support our conversations better, whether they be a video call, text exchange, home visit or at the practice?  What would a medical record look like if built keeping in mind the needs of patients looking at it or collaborating with a wider team outside of General Practice. What if it was built with consideration for the explosion in the volume of data we can collect from different care settings and from the clinically validated wearables? I’ve joined Eva Health Technologies to explore what a reimagined health record could be…