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Breaking the backlog of NHS treatment referrals

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on patient services. How can digital technology help HCPs navigate the backlog of treatment referrals?

The NHS Confederation has recently warned that the reported 30% drop in treatment referrals from 2020, compared to that of 2019, will likely manifest into a predicted six million patient backlog1. Services are under immense pressure and the capacity to deliver the same quality of care to everyone in the UK is challenging.

Reluctance to attend hospital tests has also caused a sharp decline in urgent treatment referrals. For some, whether it’s being high risk or living with those vulnerable, it means staying at home is the only option. For others, waiting times and anxiety about social distancing in practices are delaying patients being seen. These delays impact potentially long-term condition reviews, life-saving diagnosis and treatment referrals.

Thorn in the side
By embracing digital technology, the NHS can look to tackle a continued thorn in its side – its long wait times – while providing best-in-class care for its patients. Digital can free up the resources needed to ensure patients can swiftly receive a prompt diagnosis earlier and improve patient outcomes.

We must find a new approach to alleviate staff shortages to ensure that vital adult care services are delivered and prioritised, rebuild patient confidence and support our overworked staff. The past decade has proved there is a lot at stake if services do not embark on a digital transformation journey. The time for our healthcare system is now.

Personalised care
Our healthcare system is vulnerable, and patients need to have the right advice when they need it most. Digital offers service resilience. We can give patients access to expert level care based on national guidelines and understanding the self-help measures. Digital health has the potential to deliver highly personalised interventions and is not just another algorithm to follow. Many of these interventions are NHS approved and can reduce the burden on the NHS because the patient’s concern is answered without leaving their home and they feel empowered to self-manage.

Committing to digital innovation empowers patients to manage their care whilst providing clinical teams with real-time data to provide personalised support when required. Proficiency is paramount. Putting patients at the heart of any progression can enable greater access to NHS approved digital resources and interventions. By empowering the patient and putting patient choice first, the healthcare system can virtually support and educate the individual. The impact of this can be enormous, as it helps reduce admissions, missed in-person appointments and spending averages.

“Building a resilient healthcare system with accessible digital support will have a significant impact on waiting times and treatment referrals”

COVID-19 has demonstrated how technology and digital progress has enabled the industry to manage remote monitoring at scale. Delivering evidence-based interventions using NHS-approved software also alleviates pressure on clinical teams and offers better resource management for all levels of care. An example of this is the use of intelligently delivered medical device demonstration videos, which can reduce inhaler device errors by 80%. Targeted, personalised patient education prevents patients from being overwhelmed with irrelevant information by assisting patients with an effective, personalised self-management intervention.

Backlogs in reviews, surgery and treatment will only repeat if we do not shift our approach. We have a tired and understaffed workforce that is currently running on empty. Resources are stretched. The impact is evident in dwindling appointments. Adopting a virtual approach to consulting patients and overhauling NHS operation systems will support both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and the community. Preventative measures will be prioritised like never before.

Over the past year, patients who are deemed vulnerable or wish to minimise unnecessary contact throughout the pandemic can receive care via telephone. On average, GPs only have 7 minutes to see patients. Yet, they are expected to offer full patient support in this short window. Moving towards a more digital approach, including virtual consultations and automating annual reviews, helps deliver up to 75% efficiency savings in this process, which in many cases have sparsely delivered during the pandemic. Dispersed healthcare provision delivers better outcomes, as patients are engaged in the spaces they feel most comfortable in and are given the desired personalised support for their specific needs.

Digital can connect clinicians and patients to give each a set of self-management tools, rehabilitation, education courses, reporting mechanisms and even a checklist to manage their conditions. We need to harness and leverage these capabilities to mitigate the mounting pressure from waiting times and treatment referrals.

Building a resilient healthcare system with accessible digital support will have a significant impact on waiting times and treatment referrals. We are in a position to look at both the short and long-term plan to recovery. The integration of technology to transform care delivery will break the backlog borne out of the pandemic. Restoring patient confidence that they can receive the treatment they need and support to manage their care remotely will be fundamental moving forward.

This is a call for collaboration on all fronts from GP practices, the network of healthcare providers and the government.

Technology is reshaping the delivery of care. Widespread technology implementation will mitigate the looming referral backlog. Armouring HCPs and patients with the information and tools necessary will bridge the gap between need and capacity. Personalised medicine requires personalised interventions.


1. https://www.nhsconfed.org/news/2021/03/copy-of-warning-that-nhs-waiting-list-could-be-scratching-the-surface

Dr Simon Bourne is co-founder and CEO of mymhealth. Go to www.mymhealth.com

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Simon Bournehttp://www.mymhealth.com
Dr Simon Bourne is co-founder and CEO of mymhealth.


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