How and where has Covid-19 accelerated the digitalisation of the NHS?

The digitalisation of the NHS has been a long time coming. Prior to 2020, the size and complexity of the organisation made digital rollouts nigh on impossible. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, brought about an extraordinary sea-change in almost all areas of life as digital technology was rapidly scrambled, developed, adapted, and adopted to enable businesses and services to keep functioning, and people to keep communicating, at a time when we could no longer interact physically.

For the NHS, Covid-19 resulted in a rapid and impressive response to the need to digitalise. Obstacles were overcome, barriers were broken, and organisations came together to share knowledge, pool resources, and make change happen. But as the dust of the pandemic begins to settle, we can now see the scale and impact of some of the digital changes. Inevitably, there are questions as to how viable some of the changes are in a post-pandemic world, particularly in terms of workload for GPs.

The Digitilsation of thg NHS - how Covid 19 accelerated it - Lexacom's article


Total triage – ‘digital-first’ primary care

The NHS Long Term Plan, published in January 2019, outlines the intention for ‘digital-first’ primary care to “become a new option for every patient improving fast access to convenient primary care” and that “Over the next five years every patient in England will have a new right to choose this option – usually from their own practice or, if they prefer, from one of the new digital GP providers.”

This intention was super-boosted during the pandemic resulting in 99% of practices now having adopted a remote ‘total triage’ model. It’s a model that offers long-term benefits post-pandemic as it brings efficiency to GP practices in terms of providing a useful filter for patient needs, while also giving patients the option of either face-to-face or online consultation.

Electronic Prescription Service (EPS)

Following phase 4 of the EPS rollout in November 2019, which allowed doctors to prescribe electronically even if the patient did not have a nominated pharmacy, take-up figures for EPS rose significantly – from 72.6% of all prescribing in January 2020 to 86.8% in May 2020. In 2021/22, this figure had risen again to 95.3% of all items dispensed. The benefits are many, enabling doctors to prescribe – and pharmacists to dispense – medicines more rapidly and securely.

NHS 111 online service

In March 2020, a new, dedicated, NHS 111 online service was launched to help ease the burden on the NHS 111 call handlers during the pandemic. One million people used the site in the first week and over 30 million had used it by August 2020. The dedicated coronavirus service has now retired; however, the standard NHS 111 online service remains a valuable resource for patients seeking information and advice.


 In 2021, the NHS App was the most downloaded free iPhone App in England. By April 2022, the number of registered users topped 30 million. Initially intended to “provide citizens with access to NHS 111 online, their GP record, the ability to book appointments, update data sharing preferences and register for organ donation, all from their computer or smart phone”, the App proved a necessity for many requiring proof of vaccination status when travelling abroad following the reopening of borders, a factor which may have encouraged its download.

In 2022, the NHS App facilitated:

  • 65 million GP record views
  • 7 million GP appointment bookings
  • 22 million repeat prescriptions orders
  • 128,000 organ donation registrations


Where does the digitalisation of the NHS go from here?

 There is little doubt that the acceleration of the digitalisation of health as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about many efficiencies, but the scale and pace of such change does not come without challenges.

In the US, a pre-pandemic study by Wachter and Goldsmith highlighted that the nation’s electronic health record (EHR) is “rightly seen as a major cause of professional burnout among physicians and nurses: Clinicians are spending almost half their professional time typing, clicking, and checking boxes on electronic records.” In the UK, where the chronic shortage of GPs and its effect on those currently in the profession has been widely reported, updating patient records in language that can be readily understood by the patient is a challenge many GPs are facing at a time when they are already under significant pressure. So, while the ultimate goal of digitalisation is to ease some of the pressures, there is without doubt still a long way to go.

Rapid changes such as those experienced over the last three years can be overwhelming, so it is important to take stock of the aspects of digitalisation that are essential as well as those that genuinely make a positive difference in easing workloads.


The digitilisation of the NHS: how Lexacom can help

 Lexacom’s range of products can help with these additional pressures of NHS digitalisation.They are all designed to help busy doctors, practices, and secondary care units save time.In particular, we recommend practices and secondary care units consider:

Lexacom Echo – speech recognition software, powered by Comprehension Engine® our ground-breaking technology that is perfect for supporting Citizen Access through its adding plain-English definitions of medical terms to patient’s notes, as the clinician dictates or writes.

Lexacom Scribe – our dictation transcription service, with next business day turn-around and UK-based medically trained transcribers. Use it as a regular part of the practice team, or as an on-demand service, when staffing is short or the number of dictations is high.


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