Improving patient flow is key to solving UK health crisis

Healthcare should be provided in a way that understands and meets the needs of patients. This is so obvious that it shouldn't need stating – and yet, much about the way that healthcare has been systematically delivered in the UK fails to take this as the essential starting point.

Preventing queues, waits, delays, bottlenecks and poor quality outcomes

To say that the healthcare sector is facing huge challenges would be a major understatement. A record number of people waiting for treatment and all projections anticipating that this situation will get steadily worse, before it gets better, is generally wearily accepted as an unhappy fact of life. Further, the difficulty in accessing GP services, the traditional gateway to both diagnosis and treatment, and the inevitable knock-on strain that this places on A & E provision hardly optimises care.

Indeed, a recent survey carried out by medical publisher Medscape UK revealed that the number one concern for UK doctors is the issues that patients are facing in just being able to get access to healthcare. If these problems are to be properly addressed then solutions that are both innovative but also truly patient-centric will be required.

allowing a seamless and integrated healthcare journey

Direct access to the most appropriate healthcare

High quality, “joined up" medical services must be managed and delivered in such a way as to give patients direct access to the most appropriate healthcare and to facilitate their seamless navigation, or flow, along the subsequent healthcare pathway. The aim must be to prevent queues, waits, delays and bottlenecks and the poor outcomes for patients that are associated with them. The placing of emphasis on improving the flow of patients across departments, organisations and ultimately the whole health system in order to maximise benefits is not new.

Dr Prem Premchand, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Medical Director of leading medical support services company Medcare says, "I know only too well the negative impact that delays in diagnosis and treatment have on patients. Now more than ever, we must seek innovative ways to solve systemic problems. Utilising digital technologies can provide transformative and sustainable solutions to our healthcare delivery problems".

Improving flow

Nearly twenty years ago the NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement produced a 40 page Improvement Leaders Guide entitled “ Improving Flow". The thrust of this document was that detailed analysis had demonstrated that improving patient flow across the healthcare system:

  • improves the patient experience
  • improves clinical outcomes
  • eliminates waits and delays
  • saves time and money by removing duplication of work, and
  • saves money from the cost of over-time, waiting-list initiatives, locum and agency fees.

'Flow Cost Quality Improvement Programme'

A decade ago the Health Foundation created the Flow Cost Quality Improvement Programme to focus on the relationship between patient flow, cost and outcomes. It stated, “ Poor systems deliver poor results – for patients, NHS staff and taxpayers.”

it's interesting to ask then why the ideal of the uninterrupted movement of patients across the health system has proven so hard to achieve. One fundamental answer must be the historical hesitancy on the part of the health sector to adopt new and transformative technologies. This is despite the fact that patients (consumers) are increasingly defining their ideal healthcare experience in terms of convenience, access to quality information, choice and level of customer service.

The whole model of care needs to transform

The Covid pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote healthcare, online consultations and e-triaging but there is so much more to come. Digital technologies are now capable of providing fully integrated and automated secure patient navigation through multiple healthcare interactions. E-referral /e-triage platforms can provide direct access ( search, inform, choose and book).

Craig Oates, MD of leading digital healthcare solutions provider Doctrin UK, says, “It is generally accepted that the current care model is not sustainable and needs to transform. Focusing the way that healthcare is delivered so as to ensure that it really meets the needs of patients and caregivers is crucial. Improving patient access to healthcare and simplifying the journey, or flow is fundamental to this. Care pathways are often highly complex, often confusing to patients and caregivers alike, and it seems clear that only by embracing a sustained move towards digitisation of systems, supported by transformation of how and where care is delivered, will allow a seamless and integrated healthcare journey for patients to be possible.”

Ultimate goal is now possible

Fully connected patient navigation and secure communication across the whole healthcare system is the ultimate goal and it is now possible. There is now an opportunity to transform the way that healthcare is provided but it must place patients firmly at the centre.

High quality, “joined up" integrated medical services can now be managed easily utilising the latest integrated digital systems. This gives patients direct access to the most appropriate healthcare professional and / or signposts to provide seamless patient navigation, or "flow". Furthermore, the interchangeability between private sector and NHS patients is becoming increasingly important as the NHS contracts with private sector service providers.

To achieve this level of patient choice, clinics are turning to integrated modular systems. This approach allows full product choice and the flexibility to include the best individual component parts to meet the unique service requirements. Thanks to major improvements in API and designer integration, having the choice of fundamental IT modules means that systems no-longer need to be hampered by legacy, sub-optimal or out-dated systems.

Any clinic can now choose and integrate the best:

  • Practice management system (PMS)
  • e-triage,
  • patient navigation,
  • medical records (EMR),
  • integrated marketing,
  • booking and billing systems -

... for individual clinical and commercial purposes.

As Craig Oates , "There is now an opportunity to transform the way that healthcare is provided but it must place patients firmly at the centre".

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