Will the GP surgery of the future have separate entrances and waiting areas?
Will it be partitioned and contain designated isolation areas to accommodate possible contagious and non-contagious visitors? Will reception staff be working behind Perspex screens or will the service counters keep patients at a distance of one-and-a-half metres?
Has the era of universal telehealth, where patients can interact with their GP or practice nurse from the comfort of their home, or anywhere else – facilitated by permanent Medicare item numbers, practice support payments and new affordable and trustworthy digital communication tools – finally commenced?
Will office and medical equipment be designed to enable more ‘no-touch’ interactions?
Will technology such as remote monitoring devices and health apps be able to provide us with the information we need when we cannot observe someone in-person?
And are we going to have to learn new skills, such as gathering data and making reliable assessments while the patient is not in the same room? Will GP training of the future place a greater focus on telemedicine skills? Will we meet, make decisions and deliver education more often via video conferencing?
Will doctors finally be able to issue paperless scripts and let patients pick up their medications without having to physically visit a medical centre? Are we going to demand more from our medical software systems, so it will perform these tasks for us, even under circumstances of high demand and from different devices and locations?
Is the way we keep stock of essential equipment and medications going to change? Do we want to be more aware of the strengths and weakness of supply chains? Will GP surgeries in the future be more prepared for pandemics and natural disasters?
Will the interaction with other parts of the health system change, facilitating for example, better electronic two-way communication and sharing of information with hospitals? Will our patients be able to access telehealth appointments with allied health or secondary and tertiary care facilities more often?
Will we be able to better align general practice and state health organisations during future natural disasters and pandemics? Is it possible that doctors, pharmacists, pathology providers and telehealth providers will pull together, putting aside personal or political gains?
A lot has been said about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and how it has forced us to review, rethink and redesign almost everything we do.
The pandemic has exposed weaknesses and limitations of our healthcare system and, at the same time, stimulated creativity and innovation.
But some things will never change. To maximise the benefits of primary care, the long-term therapeutic doctor-patient relationship remains crucial. And, at some stage this will again involve shaking hands, even holding hands, as well as the necessary physical contact during examinations, tests and procedures.
There is of course a possibility that we revert back to business as usual when the pandemic is over. Medical conservatism would caution against rapid change or innovation unless the benefits are clear and supported by evidence.
Sometimes questions are just as important as the answers. It will be interesting to see how we come out of this crisis; who chooses to adapt and why – and who prefers to go back to the way we have always practised medicine.
As John F. Kennedy purportedly observed, in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. Nothing could be more applicable to the present coronavirus pandemic.
This article was originally published in NewsGP.