T-Pro helps hospitals to tackle appointment cancellation pile-up

An integrated virtual clinic app has been designed to take the heat out of the struggle to maintain appointment levels when they are under intense stress from the COVID-19 response, as the situation steps up the pace of digital transformation.
By Piers Ford
08:19 am
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Credit - NCI

Digital dictation, speech recognition and transcription for healthcare specialist T-Pro has launched eClinic Manager, a platform that enables clinicians to carry out patient appointments virtually and securely via smartphones, tablets and desktop computers.

The tool is already in use at a number of hospitals in Ireland, and will be implemented by The Isle of Wight NHS Trust – already a T-Pro customer – during the coming week.

EClinic Manager is designed to alleviate the pressure on acute hospitals to maintain ‘normal’ medical appointment schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already led to a significant volume of routine appointment cancellations – and a reluctance among patients to attend clinics in hospitals where they might be exposed to the virus.

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With hospitals also having to convert existing operations to free up capacity for a surge in COVID-19 cases, T-Pro hopes eClinic Manager will help to ease the stress on appointments and help patients with an easy-to-use tool: a link in an email or SMS will take them to a waiting room before joining their consultation via their native browser, without the need to download an app.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

While coronavirus-related appointment cancellation data is hard to come by, anecdotal evidence of the impact is accumulating. Cardiologists, for example, have expressed concern at a decrease in the number of people presenting at hospital with heart attacks, suggesting that patients with symptoms might be delaying raising an alarm if it means sitting in a busy waiting room.

Mark Gilmartin, operations director at T-Pro, said the company’s main platform, which is used to document outpatient appointments from beginning to end, has seen a 50% drop in output in hospitals across its two countries of operation (Ireland and UK) since the pandemic arrived.

“As and when we are fortunate to see normality resume, the concertina effect of these cancellations and DNAs on the day-to-day business of appointment flow is potentially enormous for a hospital that has to account for the work that it does, whether NHS or private,” he said.

Gilmartin said T-Pro’s tools are already integrated with PAS and EHR systems, and it made sense to leverage that integration to create a secure virtual clinic platform at a time when hospitals are looking for ways to digitise patient contact.

THE TREND

Gilmartin said the COVID-19 crisis is increasing the pace of digital transformation in healthcare. The capability of tools such as eClinic Manager has been availability for some time but hospitals have been reluctant to embrace the change management that comes with them. Now, hands are being forced.

“In acute hospitals, these changes will be permanent,” he said. “What they need is the assurance that the data comes in to the system, is managed correctly, and leaves it in the same way. It has to be simple, with all complexity removed for the patient – including the tech jargon! All they need to do is allow their camera and mic, for each new consultation. It isn’t invasive. They enter the waiting room and a moving desktop image reassures them that their screen hasn’t frozen.”

Clinicians can work in teams: doctors will see who is in the waiting room. When they finish a consultation, they complete a hospital template – prefilled with demographic details – and can dictate notes that are then saved and stored in the usual way.

ON THE RECORD 

“Free-style video-conferencing applications terrify the IT department because they are not integrated and have no reporting capability – how do they even know that someone has used Skype or Zoom?” said Gilmartin.

EClinic Manager gives clinicians a tool that is fully compliant with data protection and protected health information restrictions. Medical users simply convert ‘normal’ consultations into virtual consultations.

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