Our Digital Pioneers programme was launched earlier this year to drive forward the development and adoption of digital innovation within primary care in the North East and North Cumbria.

Any member of the primary care workforce can have an innovative idea. At the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) we’re here to help find and guide innovators by providing the most appropriate support to help take an idea and bring it to life.

In our most recent blog in the Digital Pioneers series, Jennifer Owen, General Dental Practitioner based in Gateshead, discusses how dentistry is empowering patients to use digital to improve their own health and access to healthcare services. Jennifer also explains how the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital and improved connections to other sectors, including medical and pharmacy, to provide care remotely.

As a dentist of 17 years and a principal of two practices in Gateshead, I have witnessed first-hand how NHS dentistry is evolving. I have been Chair of my Local Dental Council and member of the Regional Dental Council for 10 years; a good practice assessor for the British Dental Association (BDA) and a primary care research champion; I’m an educational supervisor for several foundation dentists; and chair the regional period assisted study support (PASS) mentoring scheme.

One of my professional interests is around the patient journey, particularly in efficiency and improving patient access to services. I have been a long-term advocate for dental innovation and so I was keen to be involved in the Digital Pioneers programme. Dentistry is a small but vital part of healthcare and is a fast-paced industry which should always be striving for advances in development and excellence.

The Covid-19 pandemic created significant challenges for the dental profession, but also brought to light a number of pre-existing issues, around access to care, out of hours dental emergencies and how to manage patients who were unable to attend in person. Links to other healthcare providers were lacking, clinical networks were not established, and workforce management was sporadic.

By using digital platforms and creating a local and regional network, we coordinated a primary care workforce, established a spine of emergency care hubs, remotely prescribed and liaised with medical and pharmacy to provide remote care.

In addition to this, we were able to remove the risk of Covid-19 transmission by using digital imaging units and intra oral scanners. Reducing routes of transmission not only decreased the risk of Covid-19 infection but allowed quicker turnaround with less disruption to patients as images could be immediately transferred and viewed. Links to medical colleagues were no longer cumbersome and patient’s needs could be managed in real time.

There is still more work to be done to streamline the patient journey by improving digital referral pathways and providing access to full medical records, and this is just one aspect of dental care improvement. With new ideas and new technology moving at a rapid pace, the scope for innovation is endless.

Want to find out more about innovation in primary care? Sign up for our Digital Innovation in Primary Care Showcase online event

Join primary care colleagues from across the region on Wednesday 7th September to discuss how we can develop and deploy digital innovation in primary care and how this can benefit patients and staff in the North East and North Cumbria.

Register your place here.

For more information, please contact Emma Richardson, Innovation Manager at [email protected]

The AHSN NENC is delighted to be working in partnership with Digital First Primary Care on this programme.