In a recent Royal College of Physicians report, the NHS England Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, has used his foreword to call for a revamp in outpatient care. He is calling on the NHS to use innovation and digitalisation to reduce the number of unnecessary outpatient appointments.
While complimenting the NHS for its ability to evolve and innovate during its 70-year history, Professor Stephen Powis says that it is now crucial that the NHS evaluates and improves interaction with its patients to provide the best care possible.
The leading doctor believes NHS trusts should use the plethora of apps and online tools to communicate with patients. As a result, the patients would be spared hospital visits as well as reducing the time taken from school and work. Consequently, the patient-centred service could save the NHS millions in unnecessary appointments. Furthermore, it allows clinical specialists to spend more time with complex patients.
In his foreword Professor Stephen Powis says; “As part of the long-term plan for the NHS, it’s right we look at ways to cut unnecessary appointments, save thousands of journeys, reduce traffic and pollution and make the NHS more efficient.”
There are already several models that are being developed to reduce outpatient appointments and increase patient care. For example, Tower Hamlets have developed an e-clinic where GPs can send emails to specialist kidney consultants for a quick response. This eliminates the outpatient appointment, and now only one-fifth of kidney referrals now go to hospital. Currently, this is saving over £1 million in North-East London alone.
Another example is the neurology hotline set up in North West England which has enabled £100,000 to be reinvested back into the NHS as well as reducing patient travel time and unnecessary appointments. You can read more on this case study here.
In Berkshire, the trust has overhauled its service, and now patients in a high level of pain will receive an appointment with a specialist within a month. Over 90% of patients are now seen in six weeks compared to seven to nine months previously. Instead of having unnecessary consultant appointments, the Integrated Pain and Spinal Service now oversee patients in pain.
While in North West London, they have cut unnecessary appointments for children by 80%, thanks to new child health hubs. GPs meet specialists every four to six weeks to discuss patient cases while a specialist clinic is also held so patients can see their GP and a paediatric consultant. The hub also includes dietitians, mental health workers and health visitors.