Hospitals could recover around 1.6 million appointment slots annually by allowing patients digital control of their hospital appointments and save £167m a year in the process, according to a report commissioned by DrDoctor.

The report, conducted by Edge Health, analysed outpatient appointments in the NHS and found that empowering patients using patient initiated new appointments (PINA) and patient initiated follow ups (PIFU) can significantly cut the NHS elective backlog.

Edge Health studied the use of DrDoctor’s solutions at two sites – including PIFU and PINA at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust’s physiotherapy service.

The data collected shows that putting patients on digitised PIFU pathways for both high-volume, low-complexity conditions and smaller volume, higher-complexity conditions could lead to at least 1.18 fewer outpatient follow up appointments needed per patient.

The calculated time and cost savings were then applied to the more than 50 million outpatient appointments nationally. If patients were given digital access nationwide, it could free up the waiting list for 1.4 million hospital appointments, boosting capacity for more patients to be seen.

Tom Whicher, CEO, DrDoctor, 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.”

In addition, by embracing digital pathways, the time between the first appointment and follow up appointments is also longer, further increasing capacity. A significant number of patients also opted for no follow up appointments when they had digital control.

At Guy’s and St Thomas’ more than 70% of physiotherapy patients on a PIFU pathway chose not to return for a second appointment. In comparison, 44% of non-PIFU patients opted not to return.

Rashida Pickford, consultant physiotherapist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “The analysis shows the benefits of using technology to give patients more control over their appointments. Avoiding clinically unnecessary appointments means we can provide a better patient experience and free up much-needed time for clinical and administrative staff.”