How technology is cutting down NHS waiting lists

Published: 10th April 2024
Kat James, Director of New Projects at Consultant Connect, one of the UK’s leading telemedicine providers, explains how the company is working with the NHS to cut down on waiting lists using technology that’s simpler than you think.
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This article was written by Kat James, Director of New Projects at Consultant Connect, for Business Age. You can read their article here.


How technology is cutting down NHS waiting lists

To say the NHS is under pressure when it comes to waiting lists would be somewhat of an understatement. The average Referral to Treatment waiting time is 15 weeks, the highest it has been since April 2007.

A survey last week showed that public satisfaction with the NHS is currently at the lowest levels on record, with the long time it takes to get an appointment being cited as the main reason for dissatisfaction. 

However, this survey also made clear that no-one blames NHS staff. It confirmed what we all feel and think; doctors, nurses and paramedics are all working incredibly hard and doing the best they can with limited resources. But they need more help, and the best way to do this is by making the NHS more efficient.

Technology has a big role to play in streamlining NHS processes and taking the pressure off staff. However, this does not mean filling our hospitals with AI-powered robots or giving staff hovercrafts to navigate wards quicker.

One of the solutions, thankfully, is simpler. For tech to stick in the NHS, it needs to be straightforward and easy to adopt. The NHS is struggling with resourcing and some digital change initiatives are too complicated and not well-supported enough to last and deliver the impact desired. Instead, we need to focus on improving existing processes.

Consultant Connect’s technology is an example of a simple solution that is among the most powerful out there. It tackles the problem of patients being sent to hospital unnecessarily by speeding up communication between primary care clinicians and consultants.

This is incredibly simple, yet it solves a huge problem. Previously, clinicians would have to go through hospital switchboards to ask to be put through to a specialist consultant when they needed advice about their patient. This would often leave them waiting on hold for 30 minutes or more before speaking to anyone. Most of the time no one would be available, so they’d have to wait to be called back, which could take hours or days (assuming someone would eventually get back to them). 

In these cases, a clinician can hardly be blamed for sending the patient to hospital – better to be safe than sorry. However, it can lead to a build up of pressure and overwhelm for hospital staff who have to manage patients that might not necessarily need to be there to get the appropriate care they need.

Instead, clinicians such as GPs and paramedics can use Consultant Connect’s App to connect with consultants if they need expert advice in a matter of seconds. More often than not, this advice allows the clinician to avoid sending a patient to hospital unnecessarily, which reduces waiting lists and frees up the time of doctors and nurses to see the patients that really need to be seen.

It may be a simple concept, but this is why it’s been successful and so widely adopted. Consultant Connect’s tech is used by half the NHS across England, Scotland and Wales, including 5,000 GP surgeries and 9,500 consultants. In total it covers more than 40 million patients across the UK. 

The data proves it’s effective. In 2023, more than 400,000 calls were placed, and one million photos were taken and shared for advice through the Consultant Connect App. As a result of these interactions over 400,000 patients avoided unnecessary hospital attendances last year.

This shows that in spite of what you might hear about technology and the NHS, simple tech that streamlines existing processes, like telemedicine, could be the silver bullet that we need to solve our waiting lists crisis. Consultant Connect is just one example that shows simplifying communication is vital. 

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