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Digital appointments could save NHS £167 million and cut waiting times

Giving patients ‘digital control’ over their hospital appointments could save £167 million and cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment, according to a new analysis.  

Giving patients ‘digital control’ over their hospital appointments could save £167 million and cut waiting times for diagnosis and treatment, according to a new analysis.

The report – conducted by Edge Health, a health economics consultancy – found that around 1.6 million hospital appointments are taking place in-person unnecessarily, and could instead be conducted on digital platforms.

Conducting appointments digitally for patients with low complexity conditions not only frees up hospital appointments for those with urgent needs, but also reduces waiting times, as the time between the first appointment and follow-up appointments tends to be longer when patients are on a digital pathway.

This suggests that patients are receiving the right care at the right time and may therefore need fewer appointments overall.

Freeing up appointments for those who need urgent care

The report is based on NHS outpatient appointment data. Edge Health then examined the use of two digital solutions at two of its customer sites, including Patient Initiated New Appointments (PINA) and Patient Initiated Follow-Ups (PIFU). These platforms allow patients to request appointments online.

The time and cost savings from more than 50 million outpatient appointments were applied to a national rollout to calculate the overall impact in the NHS.

The report found that patients with mild symptoms for low complexity conditions may not need a first appointment at all. Using a digital PINA pathway to address this could reduce the number of people waiting for hospital appointments by more than 210,000, freeing up appointments for patients who need clinical care.

The analysis also found that more than 70% of physiotherapy patients on a PIFU pathway chose not to return for a second appointment, compared to 44% of non-PIFU patients.

A greater number of PIFU patients also chose to request follow-up appointments later than those not on the PIFU pathway (84% had it in 120 days or under vs 88% in 90 days or under).

PIFU also led fewer patients to request follow-up outpatient appointment, creating capacity to reallocate these appointments to patients with more complex care needs who need to be seen more frequently.

The ability to reallocate these appointments has created capacity for an additional 9,268 patients, at the value of £719,476 per year.

Demographic factors did not limit engagement with digital pathways

DrDoctor, the UK’s leading patient engagement platform (PEP) supplier, commissioned this research. The supplier manages around 25% of NHS outpatient booking activity and provides digital PIFU, PINA and patient engagement services in over 45 healthcare organisations.

The company’s CEO, Tom Whicher, said: “This report demonstrates much-needed real-world evidence on the benefits of PINA and PIFU at scale. Given that the national target for 5% of outpatient attendances using digital PIFU was recently dropped, the report should give confidence to providers on how these processes, enabled by digital tools, play a vital role in tackling the backlog and creating efficiency savings.”

Wicher added that the research also shows that demographic factors such as age, do not limit engagement with digital PIFU pathways; an encouraging sign that people from all demographics have the ability to access digital platforms with the right support.

“Often there are concerns about digitisation because it isn’t accessible for everyone. And whilst that can be true, this report confirms that it’s often an exception rather than the rule,” he said.

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