By Dr. Anushree Priyadarshini, Change Team, ARCH
Waiting for longer than you expected to is never a welcome experience, whether it is for trivial things or for important matters. It becomes a hugely frustrating issue when it involves waiting for a healthcare treatment, for appointment visits to specialists or for diagnostic test results to start a treatment.
Research1 has repeatedly outlined that waiting times for medical treatments are not mere inconveniences. They can result in consequences such as increased pain, anguish, and even mental distress. In some cases, a delay may even result in poorer treatment outcomes, or a possible reversible illnesses developing into a chronic one. There are also economic impacts of these delays, for example, patients may need to skip work and thereby sacrifice their wages while waiting for treatment – this is an economic burden not just for the individual, but also for the economy. Unfortunately, this is the unacceptable reality for thousands of patients across the globe.
The 2015 European Health Consumer Index (EHCI) gives Ireland an overall ranking of 21st out of 35 countries in terms of waiting times in Irish hospitals, ranking equally poorly in waiting times for CT scans and other diagnostic tests and their results2. Figures from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland from 30th September 2016 – 30th November 2016 shows that 39.9% (40,686) of patients were waiting longer than 9 weeks for a diagnostic test and associated results 3. Similarly the quarterly diagnostics census data collected by NHS England for quarter 4, 2016 shows 18,924 patients waiting over 6 weeks for a diagnostic test4. While the HSE is working towards standardising diagnostics data including the ‘Inpatient Diagnostics Project’ for the collection of inpatient waiting times and activity for diagnostics5; and firms like SwiftQueue and Centric Health are working with hospitals and clinics to deliver more efficient, cost effective, and accessible healthcare appointments, a more integrated approach supported by technology at practitioners side can help further expedite the process and reduce the turnaround time.
A Connected Health approach could help transform and accelerate this conventional process by way of implementing collaboration, networking and security technology. Medical practitioners and experts can be connected to interpret and process patient imaging studies virtually and a secure and reliable network infrastructure can enable high-definition image sharing. Real-time video communications can reduce time to diagnosis and working remotely would drastically enhance workflows and reduce the turnaround times. This would allow for significant advances in the patient experience and most patients could expect getting their imaging results on the same day as the scan procedure.
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