Remote hospital appointments are miles better, say Devon patients

Thousands of miles in car journeys have been slashed in Devon, as an added bonus of hospital appointments carried out by telephone or video.

Patients who responded to a survey at one local trust alone reported a total of 9,000 fewer miles and saving many frustrating hours on the county’s roads and in hospital car parks as they broadly praised the experience of seeing their hospital team or consultant from their own home.

Those who still needed to attend hospital said that their appointments felt safe and well organised.

Initial results of a survey by Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust showed that:

  • The vast majority of telephone appointments were positive experiences
  • Face to face appointments were well managed, including use of PPE
  • 490 people surveyed about video appointments wanted them again and saved a total of 9,000 miles in travel

Doctors and clinicians connecting with patients remotely also say it works well.

Improving efficiency and personalised care

Even before the arrival of coronavirus, Devon was leading the way in linking patients with their doctors online to improve efficiency and personalised care.

Now remote clinics are being used by many specialties, allowing people to see a specialist promptly, safely and without having to travel to hospital. Thousands of appointments already take place this way every week in Devon, saving travel time and costs and supporting social distancing.

The trust in northern Devon invited feedback on outpatient appointments held during the pandemic. Feedback from patients about telephone appointments was overwhelmingly positive, with the strongest theme from patients that it had saved them time, effort and expense in travelling.

The vast majority who had video appointments said it was easy to connect and 92 per cent said they would like their consultation by video in future. Eight patients avoided round trips of more than 100 miles each.

Other benefits reported were: less anxiety by not having to attend hospital; not having to find childcare or take siblings; much easier to talk from the comfort of home; more convenient and better use of time; avoiding mobility issues and reliance on others for transport.

The hospital’s rheumatology team has already won a national award for its work pioneering virtual video appointments before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now 70 of the hospital’s services use video conferencing where appropriate instead of a face-to-face outpatient or follow-up appointment.

Keeping in touch with patients without them needing to leave home

Dr Stuart Kyle, rheumatology consultant, said: “When we started this project in 2019, we wanted to introduce a remote appointment option to reduce travel time and costs for our patients. Here in North Devon, significant travelling distances meant that a 15-minute appointment sometimes required a patient to have half a day away from work. Reducing the need to travel makes a huge difference to our patients.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, our team were able to use this video technology straightaway to continue to see some patients, and more teams at the Trust started using it too. Combined with telephone appointments, we were able to keep in touch with lots of patients without them needing to leave home.”

Patients can connect to the video appointment software using an app or internet browser on their own PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, and there is a virtual waiting room where the clinician can communicate with the patient. During the appointment, blood test results, scans or other images can also be shared securely.

“Huge advantages to virtual appointments”

One of Dr Stuart Kyle’s patients, Ellie, took part in the pilot project last year. Ellie said that she previously had to allow up to three hours in her working day to travel and attend a hospital appointment that could take just 15 minutes.

Using her mobile phone, Ellie is delighted that she can now connect for check-ups without delay.

“There are huge advantages to virtual appointments,” she said.

“It was ideal. I logged in and the information I was provided with was so easy to follow. It worked perfectly, everything was really clear. I am so grateful to the team.”

Dr Kyle added: “There are clear benefits to patients in continuing with video and telephone appointments. We will still be asking to see some patients face-to-face where clinicians think it would be appropriate,  but when that’s not needed, these remote options will help our patients fit hospital appointments into their lives much more easily.”

At the forefront of delivering virtual consultations

Some of the other teams using video appointments include maternity, which is using it as a video helpline for new mums. The software is also helping clinicians work together across the South West. For example, video consultations are being used by the Trust’s paediatric team for clinical discussions with specialists from Bristol and Exeter.

At University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, more than 150 members of clinical teams have undertaken 3,456 video consultations since 1 April 2020. A further 93,062 have taken place by telephone.

Mental health providers Devon Partnership NHS Trust and Livewell Southwest are also offering services remotely where possible, while continuing to offer face to face appointments where necessary and in line with PPE and other guidance.

Devon Partnership NHS Trust’s Medical Director, Dr David Somerfield, said: “Mental health providers have been at the forefront of delivering virtual consultations with patients since the onset of the pandemic.  More than 100,000 mental health consultations have been conducted with people right across the south west since late March.

“In our own organisation, we very quickly rolled-out the Attend Anywhere digital platform to make sure that we could continue to provide the care and treatment that people need. This has been used successfully by a number of our teams, particularly our TALKWORKS service and services for children and young people.

“Almost 9,500 sessions have taken place using Attend Anywhere – which has been used alongside other remote solutions to keep in touch with people during the pandemic. Our newly-launched 24/7 First Response Service helpline also had more than 11,000 calls in its first month – which was well in excess of our forecast.”

A spokesperson for Livewell Southwest said: “Livewell Southwest has delivered more than 6,500 virtual consultations via our Livewell Connect app and platform since March, which has allowed us to continue to support people with their health and social care needs.

“This has been used successfully by a number of our services and teams including our dental access service, the wellbeing team and our First Response Service.

“Our 24/7 First Response Service supports those over 18 in Plymouth experiencing a mental health crisis, and has had more than 4,000 calls since launching in May.”