Blog | Five questions to ask when researching digital pre-op solutions
Before COVID-19, The Department of Health’s Digital-by-Default report found that 40% of all pre-operative screenings in Secondary Care could be conducted remotely. This would save 1.2 million face-to-face hospital appointments per year, releasing cost efficiencies to the value of £48 million. With new adoption of technology across many aspects of our lives, this percentage is likely to increase and the benefits, which are no longer just financial, will become more important for the future of people’s health..
Transforming the pre-operative pathway can help NHS Trusts make huge strides towards unlocking these numbers, but what should they be looking for when researching the solution to drive this change? And what are we doing to support them in this transition.
Ahead of ‘restarting’ elective surgery, Tori Dand, Head of Synopsis Projects at Intouch with Health, shares five key questions Trusts need to ask.
1) How will the solution help improve the experience of a patient on the pre-operative pathway?
Improving the patient experience is the driving force behind most digital transformation projects. For example, it’s important to understand how introducing a digital pre-op health questionnaire will create a better experience for patients awaiting surgery.
The objective of a digital pre-op health questionnaire is to give patients the flexibility and convenience of completing it in their own time. It can be completed either in the comfort of their own home, at work, or on the move. By doing so, patients are freed from having to take time out to attend hospital, which gives them back their time and is less disruptive to their schedule, therefore improving their overall experience in the weeks ahead of their operation.
Take Worcestershire Acute NHS Foundation Trust as an example. Since introducing Synopsis Home, thus far, 18% of pre-op patients have submitted their pre-op questionnaire before 9am, ahead of the start of their working day. A further 31% submitting answers between 12:00 and 2:00pm, during their lunch break. From May 2020 to August 2020, Worcestershire patients saved a combined 722 hours inside the hospital by completing their health questionnaires remotely. Worcestershire patients have also saved, on average, £5.20 each for fuel and parking fees when not attending hospital.
By removing the travel time and interruptions associated with travelling to hospital, pre-op questionnaires become more convenient for patients to complete, in turn speeding-up the information gathering process for pre-op teams and allowing them to triage patients more efficiently.
Rachel Foley, Senior Sister Pre-Operative Assessment Countywide, WRH Theatre Admission Unit at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said:
“Our elective surgery patients can now complete their health history questionnaire from the comfort of their own home, in their own time, then submit the answers in real-time to our clinical teams."
2) Is the platform inclusive and accessible for every patient?
Yes, and it must be. This is linked closely to improving the patient experience is the inclusivity, ease-of-use and accessibility of the digital pre-op questionnaire platform.
Its design and configuration must be inviting, clear and simple for patients to engage with to ensure high levels of engagement and achieve high usage rates across all age ranges and patient demographics. The user experience of the platform should leave the patient confident that the process of submitting their pre-op questionnaire using a link sent by the Trust to their phone, laptop or tablet is significantly easier and more beneficial for them than taking time out to attend a face-to-face appointment.
Since Synopsis Home’s deployment at Worcestershire in May 2020, 42% of patients that used the platform to submit their pre-op questionnaire were between 55-74 years of age, indicating the transition to the new technology has been well received by patients who are non-digital natives.
Should patients choose to do so, they can also complete the digital health questionnaires on computers and the hospital. This route is normally chosen by ‘high-risk’ patients who are highly likely to require an appointment with a nurse at some stage of the pathway regardless.
3) Does the platform help facilitate a joined-up pre-operative pathway?
For any digital transformation project to be successful, the technology must also improve the experience of the teams using it. This means facilitating instant, efficient information and data sharing that replaces disparate, paper-based processes with a single pool of data that is held centrally and easy for Trust staff to access.
A digital pre-op questionnaire platform should do this by centralising the pre-op process across multiple hospitals within a Trust, creating a joined-up approach to the pre-operative pathway where staff can access a patient’s information at any site across the Trust.
This can help facilitate more effective patient load balancing, as any patients requiring a face-to-face pre-op assessment don’t necessarily have to complete the assessment in the same hospital where their operation is scheduled, made possible by staff being able to access a patient’s information from the centralised hub regardless of their location within the Trust.
4) Will the platform improve team communication?
Hand-in-hand with improving staff experience through technology goes improving team communication. To achieve maximum uptake and become embedded as a process that makes their jobs easier, any paper-based process being made digital should have efficient staff communication at the heart of its design.
Built-in communication and notification tools should be available to ensure staff can quickly and easily update patient records directly via the platform without having to rely on disconnected email trails that quickly become difficult to manage and store in an orderly fashion.
At Worcester, the team benefits from using Synopsis iQ to access and auditable communication trail from admin staff, to nurses, to the anaesthetist groups and back to nurses. Although a seemingly simple design point, having this digital communication trail makes a huge difference to the staff using the platform while helping create an auditable trail of communication for the Trust.
Dr James Hutchinson, Consultant Anaesthetist, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said:
“I use the notifications to remind me of patients who I need to keep an eye on. It helps me manage my pre-operative workload."
5) Can the platform deliver real-time patient visibility?
Yes, with the ability of any pre-op questionnaire platform to facilitate a joined-up pre-operative pathway, is the crucial need for it to also provide staff with visibility into a patient’s pre-op assessment pathway in real time, where pre-op teams can search for individual patients or other pathway stage and status parameters and find the information they need quickly and efficiently.
A ‘pre-op ready’ pool of patients should be created across the Trust, enabling staff to quickly and easily find replacement patients to fill slots created at the last minute as a result of cancelled operations. For example, a left knee operation patient can quickly be found to fill a slot originally allocated and set-up for similar surgery. As a result, precious theatre time is optimised and the patient experience is heightened.