How Organisations Can Tackle Healthcare Backlogs

In modern public sector healthcare, backlogs pose a significant challenge resulting in prolonged wait times, additional pressure on NHS resources, and – as a significantly negative byproduct – heightened anxiety among patients. And with roughly 7.5 million people currently in the UK on waiting lists, addressing this issue is paramount. Dr Chandu Wickramarachchi, practising ED clinician and Chief Clinical Informatics Officer at Epro, explains how the NHS can tackle backlogs by taking a proactive approach, embracing shared accountability, and leveraging digital solutions – and, in doing so, mitigating against the avoidable burden of patient anxiety.

Alleviating Patient Anxiety

It is no surprise that patient anxiety typically escalates when a patient is faced with delays in receiving their expected care. Every patient on a waiting list is going through the uncertainty of something potentially significant to their health and the longer they are kept waiting, the more their anxiety compounds on the circumstances. When this happens, we are letting the patient down. This highlights the urgency of timely intervention as well as the importance of avoiding further deterioration due to the negative impact of mental strain on physical health. To tackle this, as healthcare providers, it is important we leverage the tools available to us – such as clinical informatics and data analysis – to help us triage and prioritise patient care based on urgency and necessity. By doing so, we can strive to provide reasonably timely reassurance and alleviate the anxiety that may hang over patients who are awaiting diagnosis or treatment.

Be Proactive

To address the backlog issue, we must be proactive with the solutions we employ. For example, expediting the dictation and processing of referral letters digitally can significantly advance the pace of delivering patient care. By such measures in getting ahead of systematic operational delays, we can pre-emptively address some of the backlog challenges caused by ever-escalating admin pressures and ensure we get the right care to the right patient sooner than later.

Shared Responsibility and Accountability

A fundamental aspect of tackling backlogs lies in acknowledging the shared responsibility among healthcare providers. Primary care practitioners, secondary care specialists, and even, to some extent, the patients themselves all have a role to play when it comes to managing the complex multi-directional flow of patient referrals and facilitating timely access to treatment. However, the frequent lack of singular accountability in the referral process often leads to gaps and delays in patient care. It is imperative that we collectively strive to enhance coordination and communication across all levels of care to minimise such lapses.

An example of how we could solve this across care settings is to improve the clinicians’ workflow for referral letters from primary to secondary care – and vice versa. Ensuring referrals are completed comprehensively means less clinician time spent on filling the gaps and connecting the dots within the patient’s health record and faster referral, while utilising automated dictation and transcription processes to write up notes and send patient letters back to the patient’s GP will ensure better continuity of care across multiple care settings – especially for patients with complex interdependent comorbidities. Given the known positive impact of confidence in care on patient recovery, delays and disruptions due to suboptimal information sharing can compromise trust in overall care and thus outcomes; placing a further burden on the NHS as a whole. So, more than ever, it’s critical that we get this right.

Conclusion

There is no denying that addressing backlog issues in the NHS necessitates a multi-pronged approach that prioritises patient well-being, proactive solutions, and shared responsibility. As part of this effort, clinicians want to maximise technology to improve patient communication and will gladly engage with systems when the benefit of data input, processing, and output significantly outweigh the effort required. And the robust informational resources available to clinicians are invaluable, but it is now vital to deliver a better way – a more intuitive and relevant way – for clinicians to access and update that information. So, by working collaboratively and integrating technological solutions into these available resources effectively, we can strive to tackle the backlogs and alleviate patient anxiety by ensuring – as much as possible – timely access to care for all.