Face to face appointments will always be an essential part of healthcare. But safe and effective care can and does happen outside of appointments, and this thought can be applied to many parts of the health system.
In a time where the backlog of patients waiting for elective care has reached 6.5 million, with over 320,000 patients waiting more than a year for treatment once they’ve been referred, we must take the lessons learnt both from implementing triage across general practice, and from the growth of digital solutions during the pandemic, and apply it across the NHS.
We believe that a key area to implement triage is Patient Initiated Follow Up (PIFU). The NHS is targeting a reduction in follow-up appointments of 25% by March 2023, but today’s PIFU solutions won’t get us there.
Firstly, they are predominantly focused on patient-initiated booking systems, to remove unnecessary scheduled follow up appointments and instead allow patients to book themselves into an appointment, via phone or online. However, with most clinics scheduling months in advance, there aren’t typically enough empty slots available to care for patients in their time of need.
Additionally, many of these solutions are predicated on the idea that an appointment is the default of what a patient needs, and that they couldn’t receive more effective, timely and personalised care through other means.
Triaging in general practice shows how opening up the communication line between patients and their healthcare teams can enable clinicians to provide informed and effective care in other ways, freeing up appointments for those who need them.
Our view is that PIFU must speak to a wider truth about today’s healthcare system: that patient care doesn’t just happen in appointments but through other means, from remote monitoring to advice and guidance.
NHS providers should use PIFU to open a digital channel of communication which allows patients to get the specialist support or advice they need - without needing to book an appointment. Now is the time to capitalise on the power that seamless communication can have for outpatients on a PIFU pathway. This will give patients autonomy and save staff much-needed time by reducing unnecessary outpatient appointments.
In today’s challenging environment, we feel this could make a huge difference to staff morale and patient satisfaction - as well as helping to clear the backlog. And it doesn’t just have to start with PIFU - this approach can be applied throughout the entire health system. Fundamentally, this will also enable the NHS to put a wider truth about today's healthcare system - that care doesn't just happen in appointments - into action in order to tackle the elective backlog.
If you haven't already, feel free to download our report - Rethinking PIFU: More than Patient-Led Booking - here. It outlines how we’re thinking about PIFU and what needs to change with the current approach to truly tackle the backlog whilst empowering patients.
Accurx is where conversations happen with and about patients. Through one, easy-to-use platform, we help everyone involved in a patient’s care to communicate and collaborate. Our secure and integrated platform lets NHS staff send SMS and email messages to patients and other healthcare providers, hold video consultations, view patient GP records, manage outpatient care and more.