NHS England’s medical director is calling for the NHS to use technology to help the outpatient system.
In his foreword to the Royal College of Physicians report, which was published on 9 November, Stephen Powis said it was time for the health service to act boldly or “grasp the nettle” to help reduce the estimated 118 million outpatient appointments every year.
The report looks into how the “traditional one-model-fits-all approach” to outpatient care is not able to keep up with growing demand and needs to be reimagined.
Part of this redesign, the report adds, is “better utilisation of the technology already available”.
Therefore in his forward, Powis called for trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to embrace Skype, apps and online tools so patients could be spared unnecessary hospital visits.
He said: “For many people, care can be delivered more timely and conveniently closer to home, by specialists at the GP surgery or by using technology in new and exciting ways.
“This report shows a snapshot of exciting new models already working successfully through apps, Skype, text messaging and remote monitoring systems that are changing the shape of care; we need to bottle and spread those examples building a new consensus for the future based on the views of clinicians and patients.”
The report concludes there are “many digital technologies that can potentially support or substitute for outpatient consultations”, but more evidence is needed.
It adds: “There is good evidence that new technologies will support innovation in outpatient services. But making good use of technology requires careful thought and planning. It is as much about changing clinical practice and professional culture as procuring high-quality, tested products.”
The potential of Skype and other online tools is being explored in other areas of the NHS.
In February, NHS England announced a further £23m of funding for perinatal mental healthcare.
This included giving new mums who experience mental ill health access to consultations through Skype.