In the first of a new column written exclusively for Digital Health, Dr Masood Nazir – clinical lead for NHS England’s primary care digital transformation programme, and CCIO at a large CCG – considers the potential of digital to improve experience for GPs and patients alike.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in NHS England’s primary care digital transformation agenda as it reaches out across the entire healthcare system.

As a GP I have always felt passionately that patients should be empowered to take more control of their healthcare through the effective sharing of information and use of innovative technology.

We all – including many of our patients – use technology in our lives when shopping, organising our holidays, and booking restaurants. I’m very keen to harness technology to improve the way in which we deliver GP services, not only for patients, but also to support my colleagues in managing the growing demand on practices.

As the national clinical lead for NHS England’s Primary Care Digital Transformation programme I am proud we have enabled over 14 million people going online to book appointments, order repeat prescriptions and view their health record. That’s nearly a quarter of the patient population.

The need for culture change

There is much work still to do for digital services to be recognised as an alternative form of access, supporting practices in managing their workload. That includes changing behaviour in using technology and supporting patients to become active partners in managing their care.

For this culture shift to happen we need to give practices and their staff the confidence and the tools to offer these online services to patients – and for them to encourage patients to keep using them.

Of course digital services need to add value too, and in general practice that’s already happening in reducing the burden on staff, so freeing up time to better serve patients.

It’s been proved that just a small reduction in calls or visits to the surgery can make a difference. For example, signing up just two extra patients a day to use online services could save a practice more than 30 hours a year.

Vital collaboration

It is also about working collaboratively with others across primary and secondary care, helping to improve communication over all care settings. I was recently appointed chief clinical information officer (CCIO) for the largest CCG in the country, Birmingham and Solihull. We have over a million GP patient records, available to six provider organisations in Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell, making it easier for colleagues to provide safer, more informed care for their patients – as well as being a good example of that collaborative working.

Sharing information allows those looking after patients to take responsibility for providing care, rather than referring them on or back without any changes to their management/treatment plans.

There is a huge amount of innovative and interesting work taking place across the digital agenda, which I’ll be sharing with you over the coming months.

Dr Masood Nazir is national clinical lead for NHS England’s Primary Care Digital Transformation team. He qualified as a doctor in 1997 and moved into general practice in 2001. He is a partner at Hall Green Health, a large, diverse practice in South Birmingham.