We’ve been engaging with patients and staff to understand your experiences of video and telephone appointments. The majority of feedback has been very positive, but as with any new ways of working, there is a lot to learn and there are ways we can improve. Your feedback and questions are helping us focus our efforts in the right places.
Dr Stuart Kyle, consultant rheumatologist and deputy medical director, is leading the Trust’s work around recovering our outpatient services following the first peak of COVID-19. Below, he answers some of the questions we’ve been hearing about video and telephone appointments.
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Why are you doing appointments by phone and video?
During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we significantly reduced our outpatient activity to keep everyone safe. Telephone and video appointments helped us keep going with some outpatient activity.
Now that we have COVID-secure pathways in place, we’ve been ramping up our outpatient activity as quickly as possible. Clinicians and operational teams are putting in huge effort to get as many patients through our services to start reducing our waiting times and ensure patients get the care they need.
Our main priority is to reduce waiting times and avoid delays for our patients, whilst remaining COVID-secure. We cannot see everyone face to face in the volumes that we need to, without risking our COVID-secure status. We know that telephone and video appointments still have an important role to play in helping us avoid delays for patients.
But beyond recovering our services from the impacts of COVID-19, there are good reasons for continuing with remote appointments. We’ve received some really positive feedback from patients. For some people it has made care more accessible, particularly those who do not drive, those who work full-time, and those who have caring responsibilities. It has saved travel time and costs, and reduced CO2 emissions.
Is a remote appointment right for me?
We recognise that the appropriateness of video appointments, telephone appointments and face-to-face appointments varies depending on the patient’s individual circumstances. We’re providing our staff with guidance to help them make that decision in partnership with patients. Patient choice is factored into their decision-making, and of course whether patients have the equipment to do a video appointment.
Are you seeing any patients face to face?
Face-to-face appointments are happening where clinically necessary, and we are doing our best to maximise the capacity we have.
We are now seeing similar volumes of patients as we were before COVID. And because of remote appointments, we have done so safely, with minimal footfall on our sites and following appropriate COVID precautions.
We delivered 905 more appointments in September 2020 compared to September 2019. We did slightly fewer new appointments in this month (97% of activity in September 2019), but a lot more follow-up appointments (112%). 62% of our appointments with consultants were remote appointments, and 38% face to face.
Can I get help to do a video appointment?
We send lots of information about getting set up to do a video appointment along with your appointment letter. Feedback about this information has been very positive.
We recognise that getting online is more challenging for some people, and we are looking at further support we can provide to patients for both video and telephone appointments. Plans are in progress, but we are, for example, working with our volunteers to see if they can talk through the process and do a trial run before the appointment.
If you are offered a video appointment, please do consider giving it a try if you are able to.
How are you safeguarding patients?
We have issued guidance to clinicians to ask a set of questions at the start of a remote appointment – are you able to speak freely? Have you asked anyone else to join this call/video appointment? Do you feel safe at home? – and to take appropriate action based on the patient’s answers.
How are you making sure that telephone and video appointments are actually working well?
I’d like to reassure you that continued monitoring and learning is integral to our continuation of remote consultations. Remote appointments are at a relatively early stage in terms of being able to draw broad conclusions around health outcomes, so we are really mindful that there needs to be an element of caution in our approach.
We are encouraging our staff to consider every appointment they deliver as a learning event, and to share what they learn so we can develop our policies and future plans. We are involving patients in our engagement, which will support our ongoing refinement of remote consultations. Both perspectives are essential.
Engagement opportunities for remote appointments and any other Trust projects will be updated on our website: www.northdevonhealth.nhs.uk/have-your-say