To tackle the growing backlog, the NHS’s Long Term Plan has promised to redesign outpatient services and prioritise Advice and Guidance (A&G), in a much needed effort to reduce pressure on clinicians and improve patient care. As NHS England works to achieve the targets set out in the elective recovery programme, A&G has the potential to boost elective activity and enable quicker access to specialist advice for primary care.
There is no doubt that A&G is a highly debated issue, because if implemented without enough care, it can simply transfer responsibility from one set of clinicians to another. Therefore, to avoid A&G creating additional workload to GPs that may already be over-capacity, it can’t just be parachuted in. From my experience, I believe that when introduced properly, A&G can be a great solution to strengthen collaboration between services, and will help provide a light at the end of the tunnel for cutting down NHS waiting times.
4 key steps to successful A&G implementation
1. Unlocking streamlined communication channels
When set up correctly, A&G enables clinicians across primary and secondary care to collaborate more easily. For this to happen, the communication channels used to share and access this specialist guidance must be streamlined and able to overcome existing organisational silos.
Providers must work closely with teams to identify where obstacles may be presented and design a solution that works as well in practice as it does in theory. Carefully designed, streamlined workflows will reduce unnecessary back and forth, and time-consuming admin, easing intense workload pressures for GPs and increasing clinical capacity to meet rising patient demand.
2. Providing comprehensive onboarding support
This includes comprehensive onboarding, training sessions and ongoing technical support.
A high quality, consistent level of support is absolutely essential at every stage of product design, development, and project implementation and roll-out, to ensure that clinicians are able to benefit from the platform from day one, and that it continues delivering positive outcomes long-term.
3. Acknowledging the entire care pathway
Successful A&G should help enhance the entire care pathway. Once specialist advice has been offered by a consultant, the system should enable direct and effective patient triage, helping them access the most appropriate treatment, sooner. At Cinapsis, we also provide an additional “chat” function to aid learning and communication between primary and secondary care, helping support clinicians to further boost efficiency and decision making in the long-term.
In turn, this reduces delays posed by additional administration and further helps lower the number of unnecessary referrals made to secondary care. When adopting a new A&G system, organisations must consider how it fits into the wider care pathway, and choose a solution that will integrate and work to support each stage.
4. Harnessing data to drive improvements
Using digital A&G platforms presents an opportunity to collect and track insightful data points on referrals, wait times and patient care. This can be used by individual services to identify successes, as well as highlighting areas for improvement.
In NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICS, for example, data shows that use of Cinapsis to facilitate advice and guidance has helped reduce unnecessary referrals to the cancer-suspected two week wait pathway for skin cancer. This has helped demonstrate the reduction in pressure and workload on both primary and secondary care, boosting engagement in the platform to drive further adoption and improvements across a wider number of services.
By harnessing the data that digital A&G systems can make available, ICSs can more easily monitor and drive progress towards elective recovery. This is absolutely essential to support organisations to achieve key NHSE targets.
In practice: NHS Cheshire and Merseyside ICS
Through our teledermatology partnership with NHS Cheshire and Merseyside, we’ve helped introduce digital A&G to more than 100 GP practices across the region, to help streamline referrals and speed up urgent access to skin cancer care.
In Liverpool, where the project started, use of A&G in dermatology is allowing at least half of cases submitted via the platform to be managed with A&G alone. This momentum has helped drive further adoption and roll-out of the platform in other areas across the region.
Cinapsis works in close collaboration with our partners, including Cheshire and Merseyside, to introduce A&G into daily practice as smoothly as possible. This way, we are able to provide A&G solutions that are tailored to clinicians’ workflows and successfully integrated with existing systems to help deliver genuine improvements for patients and clinicians alike.
Meeting A&G targets will prove a critical step in tackling the elective care backlog. With the right systems in place, delivered consciously and with the right level of support, these targets can be successfully met through sustainable, impactful change.