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Latest technology aiming to help tackle waiting times

Health leaders in Worcestershire are testing new ways of improving communications with patients who are waiting for hospital outpatient appointments, as part of wider efforts by the local NHS to tackle waiting lists which have grown during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A pilot project starting across the county this week will involve a selected group of around one thousand patients being contacted by an automated telephone calling system. During the call, they will be guided through a series of questions to update the referral with current information and confirm whether the appointment is still required.

The calls will be made to patients who have been referred by their GP or dentist for a first outpatients appointment in a selected number of specialties, but who are still waiting for that appointment to be made. The specialties are orthopaedics, gynaecology and oral and maxillofacial (patients awaiting treatment for diseases affecting their mouth, jaw, face and neck).

Graham James, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said:

"As a result of the pandemic, more patients are currently waiting for a specialist appointment and we are working hard to reduce this list.
“Many of these are people who were referred during the pandemic, but have yet to be contacted regarding a hospital appointment.
“We will be contacting patients on waiting lists to reassure them that they are on the list, and allow us to determine the status of their condition and whether they still wish to be seen.
“We are piloting a new automated calling system to enable more patients to be contacted more quickly.”

The pilot will involve those awaiting first appointments for orthopaedic, gynaecology and oral and maxillofacial speciality referrals, and if successful it will be used for patients waiting to be seen for other conditions.

Hospitals are working to contact patients by phone, letter or automated callers.

Mike Emery, Director for Digital Health and infrastructure at NHS Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG said:

“We know that across the country the NHS is facing a huge challenge to restore services as a result of the disruption caused throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In order to address waiting times, and get patients in for treatment where required, we are looking at a number of ways to do this and automated calling is one option.
“We will still be using traditional means of letter writing and personal calling also, but in addition to this we need to look to innovative solutions to help manage the increasing demand for services.”

Automated calling is being used elsewhere in the country to contact those who have waited throughout the pandemic to see if they wish to remain on appointment lists.
The automated callers will guide patients through a series of questions to determine if they still require the appointment or would prefer to be taken off the list.

During the call, patients can still choose to be able to speak to someone in person and plans are in place to use alternative means to contact anyone who misses a call.

For further information, please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions: Herefordshire and Worcestershire ccg - Waiting list technology