The additional healthcare funding provided by the government is only one part of the picture when it comes to pandemic recovery. Pouring money into healthcare won’t deliver results unless it is channelled into systems and practices that enable improvements in quality and speed of care delivery.
The upcoming additional funding is, at least in part, to be allocated to improving the IT infrastructure of the NHS. This is a fantastic opportunity to invest in systems that truly support clinicians and patients alike, and it is vital that it is spent strategically and not simply sunk into maintaining old inefficient systems.
The pandemic has encouraged healthcare providers to re-evaluate their services and the process of care delivery from the moment of admission through to discharge. What’s important is that this habit of reflection is not left behind when we head out of the other side of the pandemic; we must carry it into the future and use it to shape a more efficient future of patient flow.
Pandemic recovery will require a lot more thought than simply throwing money at the challenges the NHS faces. This is precisely the focus of Cambio UK’s Strategic Patient Flow Summit, an event where members of the NHS will gather to explore how technology can help shape patient flow in a post-covid world. The next summit is currently being planned for April/May 2022. ‘Strategic’ is precisely the type of approach that is needed to ensure that additional funding is directed to the services and patients that will benefit from it most.
Putting patients in a position where they are engaged in their own care will be vital in NHS recovery. Not only are informed patients more likely to make better decisions about their health in the long term, but they are also better placed to seek the appropriate care when it’s needed. For example, a patient that has kept a symptom diary – either manually or through wearable technologies – prior to their GP appointment is much easier to signpost to the appropriate care than one who has not.
Empowering patients to take a more active role in their care is something that has blossomed during the pandemic, and it is something that can massively benefit the NHS system at large. However, it is worth noting that patients arriving at appointments having researched their symptoms may have read incorrect information online or may only describe symptoms that fit their chosen narrative; patients engaging with their care is a welcome addition to clinical expertise but by no means a replacement.
‘The recent job description for the NHS chief executive called for a leader who could encourage a shift from the “grateful patient” to the “empowered consumer”.’ Writing for the BMJ, Robert Ede and Sean Phillips suggest that ‘if Amanda Pritchard is serious about delivering on this responsibility, then the journey to empowered consumer must begin with the elective care backlog.’
This idea of empowered patients goes hand in hand with operational transparency, wherein patients are kept clearly informed about where they are on a waiting list and when they will likely be seen. For many patients, being left in the dark about their treatment dates can be extremely distressing. Having even an estimated date can alleviate worry and allow for better management of their symptoms in the meantime. Even if wait times remain the same, patient satisfaction has been proven to increase when they have access to information about wait times.
If hospitals have visibility of their waiting lists – through a system such as Cambio’s PFM – all they will need to do is share this information with patients to already begin improving patient satisfaction. The importance of measures like this cannot be overstated; the backlog will not be resolved overnight, and we must continue to care for those on our waiting lists across the UK.
A delicate balancing act
As we strive to address the elective backlog, it’s important to also address the continued needs of those with COVID. Managing the needs of covid patients in the long term will be a delicate balancing act and it is vital that we do not repeat the same error of neglecting one portion of the population for the sake of another.
Tackling the elective backlog has become an all too familiar phrase over the past few months, and understandably so; a record number of patients are waiting for elective procedures with steadily more waiting concerningly long periods of time for appointments. Despite the continued presence of coronavirus patients in hospitals across the country, they are no longer at the forefront of many minds as the health service grapples with the other issue at hand. Focusing on one group has already proven to be a dangerous error, and is one we must not repeat again.
To that end, it is vital that hospitals and trusts maintain a clear overview of the needs of their patients and have robust patient flow management systems in place. As this new ring-fenced IT funding becomes available, patient flow management is arguably one of the best places to spend it. Without a plan, additional funding has the potential to create problems as opposed to solving them. If money is poured into already inefficient systems, it ‘can hit the bottom without touching the sides [and] extra resources can simply inflate locum doctor and agency nurse rates.’
A strategic approach to patient flow
With such vast backlogs, it is all too easy for patients to be left on waiting lists without support. An overview of patient flow within an organisation enables patients to be seen in order of true priority and facilitates signposting to alternate services that can help. For example, patients could be redirected to suitable forms of remote monitoring, community mental health services, or moved higher up the list depending on their individual needs. A clear picture of patient flow also enables hospitals to identify patients who have not been seen for a long period of time and reach out to them, reassess their needs, and prioritise them accordingly. Cambio’s PFM enables smooth inter-organisational collaboration, allowing for these referrals to be made quickly and easily without additional burden to staff teams.
It is key that systems are in place that enable trusts to accurately assess the number of patients waiting for care – both in terms of elective treatment and COVID-19 – in order to allocate resources accordingly. Cambio’s PFM is a prime example of such a system and has been proven to save hours of clinical time per team per week.
Time is very much of the essence, and any system that can save it is a worthwhile investment indeed.
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