The NHS Constitution declares that “patients should wait no longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to treatment.” However due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic waiting lists have inevitably grown.
On top of this, a large wave of cases are expected to be raised once people feel safe enough to make and attend appointments again.
Back in December 2020, 162,000 people had been waiting more than a year for treatment. And if you look back further there have been 4 million fewer referrals since March 2020 so it is estimated that there could be 4.4 million cases to be addressed going forward.
Many experts are predicting that the legacy of coronavirus and the long waiting lists it has caused will impact the NHS for years.
How Technology Can Help
The pandemic forced a shift in the NHS as it pivoted towards more technology based services. I feel this needs to continue with no putting the car into reverse and going back to the old ways of doing things.
It is important that technology is embraced and made a priority as it will help deal with cases faster and also provide the public with a more modern approach to receiving treatment and advice.
Firstly I would definitely keep (and even make them the norm) virtual appointments where patients can speak to GPs via video chat. This allows the NHS to triage appropriate cases that don’t need in-person sessions and deal with other types of cases virtually.
This method comes with a wide range of benefits including:
- Allowing GPs to speak with more people a day so the waiting list can be dealt with faster
- More convenient for the patient (saves travelling, parking costs, taking time off work etc)
- Less people in waiting rooms (which can be a cause of transmitting illnesses)
- Video chatting is now a very common communication method due to a year of lockdown so people are comfortable with it
- It allows GPs to work from home at times, which is great for improving work-life balance
Digital patient engagement specialists DrDoctor who support the NHS in this area are confident that using this type of technology could make a massive impact on reducing NHS waiting lists. DrDoctor CEO Tom Whicher said: “DrDoctor is showing how the NHS is embracing a digital-first approach to provide staff with the support and breathing space they need to clear the appointments backlog. If this was done across the NHS, it would release additional capacity – of 516,805 appointments per week.” This could help clear 20 million appointments out of the backlog in just 8 months.
Virtual appointments could also be used to improve annual health checks which notoriously have low attendance rates. 1.5 million didn’t attend their check ups in 2017-18, with only 35.9% of 40-44 year olds attending their designated appointments.
As reported in a previous blog, missed appointments cost the NHS around £216 million each year. However, by moving these annual health checks online where possible, can help ease the burden as it’s easier to manage the low attendance of these types of appointments when they’re virtual.
The use of more technology to allow remote patient monitoring will also help reduce waiting lists. By providing patients with tech that can monitor them when at home and have this data exported back to the doctor for review it reduces the amount of appointments that are potentially required with an on-going condition.
Finally getting more adoption of the NHS App (as reviewed in a previous blog) will help ease the burden in general as simple requests to book appointments or get repeat prescriptions can be made digital and therefore free up the time of the administrative staff.
Find out more
What are your thoughts on the recent digital transformation within the NHS. Do you think it’s a good idea (for appropriate cases) or do you prefer the in-person interaction? Get in touch an let us know.
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