Moving towards digital outpatients

More than 50 senior NHS trust stakeholders from across London met with industry innovators on 18 October to explore how harnessing digital technology can reshape the delivery of outpatient care.

Hosted by DigitalHealth.London and NHS Improvement, the event identified opportunities to enhance the outpatient experience through digital across referrals, appointments, remote consultation, access to information and enhanced communication.

Londoners are among the most digitally-enabled citizens on the planet. According to the Office of National Statistics, 90% of London households have internet access. Yet, only 2% of NHS users have any digital interaction with the NHS. With NHS Digital indicating that London has 21 million scheduled outpatient appointments each year, the potential for digital innovation in the outpatients’ field is obviously huge.

By bringing NHS expertise and sector knowledge together with industry expertise, DigitalHealth.London and NHS Improvement aim to improve sector understanding, forge new collaborations, facilitate knowledge sharing and action practical outpatient solutions.

Opening the event and introducing the speakers, Health Innovation Network Chief Executive Tara Donnelly welcomed delegates from 22 NHS trusts across London, 15 digital companies currently operating in the outpatient space, patient representatives and stakeholders from NHS bodies and London’s academic health science networks.

NHS Improvement Director of Improvement Programmes Bernard Quinn continued by providing a comprehensive overview of the national/policy context. Steve Russell, NHS Improvement’s executive regional managing director (London), followed up by focusing on the specific London context.

Examining the evidence base, Andi Orlowski, Head of Business Intelligence from Imperial College Health Partners, told delegates that data holds the key. According to Andi, analysis of the top 10 specialities by numbers of patients, attendance and cost can help trusts to develop strategies to choose interventions to maximise impact and manage demand.

Dr Harald Braun, Operations Director at i5 Health, went on to explain how digitising elements of the outpatient journey can reduce costs as well as patients’ and clinicians’ time and the associated administrative burden.

Elaine Bennett, Partner and David Karney, Business Development Director at Atos, described how in the future digital could enhance all aspects of the patient journey, from reminders to motivation, remote assistance and carer communication.

The World Café workshop session included a short presentation from Lisa Hollins Director of Transformation and ICT at Kings College Hospital Foundation Trust and James Friend Director of Delivery, Efficiency & Transformation at St Georges University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Both trusts are at different stages in their outpatient transformation plans. Joe Wherton, Senior researcher from the University of Oxford working with Bart’s Health, inspired delegates with Newham’s  highly successful  use of Skype for diabetes consultations, which the trust intends to rollout across other outpatient areas.

After presentations delegates used the workshops to explore particular themes and share experience on challenging areas, including referrals; appointments; wayfinding; information gathering and dissemination; remote and digital consultation; and patient portals. The workshops involved group discussions centred on themes and problem statements in a bid to share expertise and identify solutions.

Closing the event Tara thanked delegates for their enthusiastic participation and urged delegates to tell DigitalHealth.London how they would like to keep the momentum to scale innovations and benefit patients. Bernard closed by encouraging delegates to “just start somewhere.” He committed to supporting further development of the digital tariff in the near future, and to support local systems to try new approaches to the funding formula.

DigitalHealth.London and NHS Improvement are already planning to drive this important initiative over the coming months. Watch this space for developments.