Improving waiting times and customer care in high-pressure situations such as A&E has been a huge focus for the NHS in recent times. But what about those individuals who attend hospital on a more regular basis? Patients with long-term health conditions, the elderly, and care home residents can be in hospital on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis, and Trusts have just as much responsibility to improve the speed and quality of care they receive, argues Lee Copestake, technical director at healthcare scheduling specialist, BookWise Solutions.
By 2045, nearly a quarter of the population will be 65 years of age or older, according to the Office of National Statistics. Compared to 14.1% in 1975 and 17.8% in 2015, this concerning statistic illustrates the ageing population crisis.
With the corresponding larger proportion of people within the older demographic comes an increase in the number of chronic health concerns, which will no doubt have a serious impact on our health services. For example, the number of hospital outpatients that have been seen more than once within the same quarter has risen by 30% between 2011 and 2017.
Looking ahead, then, Trusts must seek to improve regular care provision within their centres as a matter of urgency.
For people living with long-term conditions that necessitate regular frequent medical appointments, such as those with diabetes, heart problems or kidney disease, ensuring the availability of regular, convenient appointment times that allow them to continue with their daily lives is crucial.
For many within this demographic, however, the reality is that with ever-decreasing budgets and resources, seeing a healthcare consultant on a regular basis is not as straightforward as it should be.
Any tools that can streamline processes, improve efficiency and provide staff with more availability will clearly make a marked difference in the quality of care that is delivered.
A good example is the implementation of room scheduling software. Surprisingly, some Trusts still manage this task using a paper diary. This severely limits the ability to efficiently coordinate rooms, staff and equipment, especially in a high-pressured environment where availability and asset requirements often change on a regular basis.
Deploying room scheduling software provides the ability to update these requirements quickly and easily across the whole system, and gives an instant overview of resources within the whole environment. It reduces the risk of errors such as double booking assets and resources and instead ensures that they can be most effectively deployed, and reduces the pressure on staff, increasing morale.
BookWise Outpatients is one example of such software. The web-based application not only allows users to maximise resource utilisation centrally, it provides insightful management reports to track individual resource activity. It displays booked and cancelled clinics for each consultant, and even allows cancellations to be analysed, providing useful insight which may help the delivery of more effective appointment management in future.
One Trust, which manages more than 1,300 outpatients clinics across two sites, including a cancer centre, Hyper Acute Stroke unit and regional neuroscience centre, has seen room booking approval rates rise from 47% to 80% since implementing BookWise Outpatients. Within the first month, the approval rate on 301 requests was 76%, delivering impressive results almost from the moment of implementation.
Budgets are often reserved for improving outcomes for patients within time sensitive, critical situations such as accident and emergency departments. The opportunity exists, however, to improve the on-going health of a large number of individuals who attend Trusts on a far more regular basis. The implementation of readily available technology can deliver savings that far outweigh the deployment costs, improving the quality of patient care, which is every Trust’s ultimate goal.