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In Journal of global health

This article reflects on the breadth of digital developments seen in primary care over time, as well as the rapid and significant changes prompted by the COVID-19 crisis. Recent research and experience have shone further light on factors influencing the implementation and usefulness of these approaches, as well as unresolved challenges and unintended consequences. These are considered in relation to not only digital technology and infrastructure, but also wider aspects of health systems, the nature of primary care work and culture, patient characteristics and inequalities, and ethical issues around data privacy, inclusion, empowerment, empathy and trust. Implications for the future direction and sustainability of these approaches are discussed, taking account of novel paradigms, such as artificial intelligence, and the growing capture of primary care data for secondary uses. Decision makers are encouraged to think holistically about where value is most likely to be added, or risks being taken away, when judging which innovations to carry forward. It concludes that, while responding to this public health emergency has created something of a digital 'big bang' for primary care, an incremental, adaptive, patient-centered strategy, focused on augmenting rather than replacing existing services, is likely to prove most fruitful in the longer term.

Pagliari Claudia