In a recent letter to NHS Trusts, NHS England noted the considerable strides that have been taken by organisations to improve elective care waiting lists. Referral activity levels are increasing in comparison to pre-pandemic and there has been ‘a massive reduction in patients waiting two years’ to begin treatment.
Whilst these improvements mark a step in the right direction, the letter acknowledges that there is still much more to be done to tackle the elective care backlog.
Dermatology is a key area of focus. Recent figures show that skin cancer has some of the worst wait times for patient treatment, with almost 10,000 patients referred by a GP waiting more than double the NHS recommended time of 14 days to see a specialist. So it is no surprise that dermatology wait times have been made a priority in NHS England’s latest elective care targets.
Outlining new guidance for elective recovery, the letter recommends that:
“All Trusts should work with their ICS to implement teledermatology and digital referral platforms to optimise suspected skin cancer pathways and reduce unnecessary hospital attendances to tackle the backlog and meet increasing demand.”
So what exactly are the benefits of introducing a teledermatology programme for waiting lists and access to urgent care? And how can it be successfully implemented?
Transforming care through teledermatology
Teledermatology enables clinicians to share high-quality diagnostic imagery and real-time specialist advice remotely:
- A specialist camera attachment called a dermatoscope can be fitted to a GP’s smartphone to capture clinical grade imagery of a worrying skin lesion or mole.
- This can then be sent securely via a digital platform, like Cinapsis, to a consultant in secondary care.
- The consultant can review the images alongside any supporting information sent through the platform and advise on the best course of action, sometimes instantly.
This means that those who do need to be seen by a cancer specialist can be more quickly referred via the two-week wait pathway. Meanwhile, those who don’t are identified sooner and triaged to a more appropriate service - reducing the number of patients joining urgent wait lists unnecessarily.
Delivering a successful teledermatology programme
To introduce a teledermatology programme successfully, collaboration is key. It’s vital to seek out a provider who will work closely with you to identify any potential hurdles or pain points and tailor the solution to work for your organisation.
In Cheshire and Merseyside, Cinapsis worked alongside a number of key stakeholders to design and implement a teledermatology service which could be scaled across the region. Use of the Cinapsis platform by GPs in the area, along with specialist dermatoscopes provided by HEINE, has already eliminated the 30% of unnecessary two-week wait referrals which were previously being made at the Trust. As a result, all patients entering the two-week wait pathway are now correctly referred, helping lower wait times for treatment and saving an estimated £1 million.An integration with EMIS and NHS ERS is also enabling information entered via the Cinapsis platform to be automatically uploaded to the patient care record. This means the outcome of any advice given or referral made is immediately accessible within the record, without the need for the primary care clinician to enter this information manually.
The uptake of teledermatology in clinical practice can directly help streamline access to urgent skin cancer care and reduce waiting lists to meet the latest elective recovery targets set out by NHS England. By connecting clinicians to collaborate more easily on dermatology referrals, we can lower the number of patients joining waiting lists unnecessarily, improve the efficiency of triage and significantly boost clinical capacity. Implementing teledermatology in a considered, collaborative way is key to driving genuine improvements which not only help us meet targets now, but provide long-term benefits for clinicians and patients alike.
Want to find out more about how Cinapsis can support your organisation to explore teledermatology? Connect with a member of our team.