West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is piloting a virtual outpatient clinic for patients in orthopaedics in an effort to increase efficiency.

The clinic is built on Saypage’s telemedicine platform and offers patients the choice of attending post-operative follow-ups online via a web cam.

Niel Kang, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and the trust’s clinical lead on the project, told EHI that the online appoints were not meant to replace face-to-face contact, but to offer an alternative.

“Many patients we see, we don’t necessarily need to see physically, but we want to know how they’re getting on.

“Patients also want the reassurance without the inconvenience of having to come in and wait in a waiting room for up to two hours for a clinic appointment,” he said.

He added that the new service should also reduce the number of appointments missed because clinics over-ran.

“For some reason, clinic appointments don’t run on time. For both patients and clinicians a lot of time is going to be freed up by this.”

During the web cam consultation, a clinician can share test results and x-rays with the patient. There is also a function for adding more callers, which can be used if a clinician would like a second opinion.

Kang came up with the idea and was put in touch with Saypage by the trust’s IT director. The trust was able to launch a pilot within a month, and is now in its second week of operating the new service.

At the moment, Kang collects the email addresses of patients to send them an appointment, but he hopes to find an easier way to do this in the future.

Once the appointment has been set up, the clinician and the patient both receive email and text reminders, 24 hours, one hour, and five minutes before the appointment.

“It gives me a reminder as well, so I won’t forget – which does happen sometimes with clinicians. We’re trying to stop ‘did not attends’, and because they are getting emails and texts, that can improve,” said Kang.

The Saypage platform is information governance compliant and can run on both the public internet and the N3 network.

“We have a very strong and vocal IG officer, so we don’t want any complaints from him,” Kang said jokingly.

The trust has set low initial targets for uptake and is keen to stress that remote consultations are entirely optional and might not be suitable for all patients.

Kang said that although he is the only clinician using the system at the moment, he had already had consultants in other departments show an interest in the project. The system is also in use at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.