[A] successful trial of a virtual outpatient clinic may mean reduced travel time in the future for some patients who can be seen by the clinician via video link from their local hospital.
The video link trial was carried out earlier this month during an Outpatient clinic for patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), run by Dr Colin Brown, Consultant Gastroenterologist, at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT).
During the clinic, Dr Brown performed the role of the ‘Remote Clinician’ located at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary whereas his six patients attended the actual clinic run by nursing staff based in Westmorland General Hospital – approximately 20 miles away in Kendal.
Dr Brown, said: “It is important that we look at other ways of delivering care to patients that fits in better with their lifestyles and where they live. Due to the geography of our area, some patients can spend hours travelling to and from their appointments, and where it is safe to do so, we want to try to make the process of coming into hospital for an outpatients appointment easier for them.
“This type of technology could not only help to reduce the time patients and staff have to travel; in some cases it may even reduce the time that patients wait to see a clinician as we may be able to see more patients each day in the time we would normally be travelling between hospital sites.”
The pilot is part of a larger IT project being run by Better Care Together – the clinical strategy for Morecambe Bay being worked upon by 11 partners across health and social care across the area. The technology could be used for outpatient consultations where a physical examination may not be needed.
The project is being led by Dr Brown, Keith Bentham, Better Care Together Programme Manager and Rebecca Fairclough, Electronic Patient Record (EPR) Advisor for Better Care Together, to look at ways of using technology to reduce travel time and costs for patients living in remote areas.
The current challenge being faced by the Local Health and Care Services is that they cover a very large geographic area (almost 700 square miles), with many people living in rural areas, such as Millom, with long journeys to access services.
Keith Bentham, said: “In some parts of the area, certain specialties have identified shortages of consultants in particular localities, and staff also face the same travel challenges in order to deliver clinics in various healthcare settings. For example, we know that in some cases, Consultants are delivering a clinic in Lancaster in the morning and Barrow in the afternoon, which is approximately 50 miles and over an hour drive away.
“Rather than wait to see a consultant at a particular location, this technology has the potential for delivering faster access to healthcare for the general public.”
Further pilots of this technology will take place within other appropriate Outpatient clinics across the area over the coming months. Later on in the year, the intention is to pilot the use of this technology from Care Homes, and test the suitability of video consultations with the patient located at home or their place of work. The teams will also be working with Out of Hours GPs, Emergency Department and Primary Care Assessment Service staff and the Prison Service who have expressed an interest in using the technology.
There will be a period of public engagement to ensure patients’ views help design the new process. Anyone interested in helping design the way these may operate in the future is asked to email: [email protected] or contact 01229 404449.
Better Care Together is the clinically led plan for ensuring health and care services across Morecambe Bay can remain safe, are of a consistently high standard, and can be financially sustained not just for the next five years, but well into the future.