NHS to trial tech to cut missed appointments and save up to £20 million

Patients will be able to book and change medical appointments online, receive text reminders and even access maps showing them where in a hospital they need to go through a digital patient tool set to be trialled in ten hospitals.

The online portal, DrDoctor, is set to save the NHS tens of millions of pounds by slashing the number of missed appointments as well as making it easier and more convenient for patients to make and manage bookings. Patients can also fill in medical forms before they arrive using the system and receive appointment letters digitally.

DrDoctor is already used in ten hospitals including Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Frimley Health NHS Trust and will soon be trialled in 11 more across the country as the NHS works to ensure every penny is spent wisely.

Hospitals using the tool are: saving up to £2m a year each by cutting missed appointments; are seeing the number of appointments where patients don’t turn up falling by almost a third and are cutting their postage costs by more than a quarter.

The tool will be trialled at NHS sites specially selected to test the impact of DrDoctor across a variety of hospitals, from small specialist sites to large inner city hospitals, with plans for the pilot to be in place by March.

Dr Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer for Health and Care, said: “As the NHS develops its long term plan we will be looking to new technology to drive improvements in patient care and improve our efficiency.

“This technology has the potential to be a triple win for the NHS by making life easier for patients, saving money and improving appointment efficiency.”

Almost eight million hospital appointments were missed, or ‘did not attend’, in 2017/18, according to the latest figures. That does not include appointments cancelled in advance by either the hospital or the patient. With each hospital outpatient appointment costing the NHS approximately £120, that could mean almost £1 billion worth of appointments were missed, equivalent to 257,000 hip replacements or 990,000 cataract operations.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “A HealthTech revolution is coming to the NHS. This is a great example of how technology can make life easier for patients and NHS staff, helping more people to access health services from home and ensuring every pound goes further.

“I want the UK to have the most advanced healthcare system as the world – and so we intend to transform the NHS into an ecosystem for enterprise which simultaneously brings pioneering treatments to patients and allows innovators to thrive.”

Dr Sam Roberts, director of innovation and life sciences at NHS England, said: “The NHS is always open to new technologies and today we have put our money behind our intentions by directly funding these tools.

“Promising innovations often struggle to gather the evidence they need to enable their rollout in the NHS, which is why it so important we have programmes like this to allow us to gather the evidence we need to help spread the use of new technologies that can save money and improve care for patients.”

DrDoctor is being funded by NHS England through NHS England’s Innovation and Technology Payment programme which is also funding four other innovations:

  • HeartFlow – Advanced image analysis software that creates a 3D model of the coronary arteries and analyses the impact that blockages have on blood flow to rapidly diagnose patients with suspected coronary artery disease. The use of the device can avoid the need for invasive investigations such as coronary angiography, usually carried out under local anaesthetic, where a catheter is passed through the blood vessels to the heart to release a dye before X-rays are taken. NICE estimate up to 35,000 people per year could be eligible.
  • Plus Sutures – A new type of surgical suture – stitching – that reduces the rate of surgery-linked infection (surgical site infection) such as MRSA, through the use of antimicrobial suture packs. There were 823 cases of MRSA reported in the NHS in 2016/17.
  • Endocuff Vision – A new type of device which allows better examination of the bowel during  a colonoscopy. This improves detection of adenomas, pre-cancerous tissue growth known as ‘polyps’ .
  • SecurAcath – A device to secure catheters that reduces the infection risk for patients with a peripherally inserted central catheter. The use of this equipment helps to reduce the time taken to care and treat dressing changes. This type of catheter is normally used in people needing intravenous access for several weeks or months in both inpatient and outpatient settings. NICE estimate up to 120,000 people per year could be eligible.

This is the second year of the drive to identify and fast track specific innovations into the NHS, which has already benefitted over 107,000 patients.

The NHS’ own innovation agencies – the 15 Academic Health Science Networks across England – have the direct responsibility for accelerating uptake locally.