Question: How can we solve appointment scheduling in the health sector
Krishan Patel answered on 3 Apr 2023:
There are so many underlying reasons for appointment issues in the health sector. The solutions are in managing both demand and supply of the appointments. Not only do we need more healthcare workers but more physical resources (appointment rooms, equipment etc). On the demand side, the public need better education about when and which services to access when they need help (self care, pharmacy, GP, urgent care centre, 111 and A&E). Complex health issues arise because of a knock-on effect from lack of social care as well. Imporoving support in other areas of society will also help the health sector.
Sarah Chalmers-Page answered on 3 Apr 2023:
We don’t have enough staff or space for all the people who need care. For example, to meet the needs of everyone who wants to see a GP, we would need 4000 more of them. And that is tricky because it takes many years to train medical staff (around 7 to make a GP, 4 for a junior nurse/physiotherapist/occupational therapist, and 12 or so for a hospital consultant) so it is not as easy as just saying “train more people.”
There are things we can try doing. Some places have started to offer more appointments in the evenings and weekends. This works well for some kinds of patients, but we have found that for the most vulnerable patients – for example elderly people – they do not want to come to hospitals late in the evening or on weekends when public transport is less frequent. We also struggle to find enough nurses and doctors who are able to work on the weekend.
We also offer more appointments with different people – for example you might see a healthcare assistant for a routine check up instead of the GP. That helps a lot, and you will only see someone who is qualified to do the job, but we find that some patients feel that they are being treated badly if they do not see a doctor. We need to do a lot more publicity about just how good our other workers are.
We are trying to sort people into the right care on the phone rather than having to see a GP first. For example, if you have a muscle injury, you might be better off talking to a physiotherapist first, not seeing a doctor. This requires people to be open with the GP receptionist, and some people do not like to do that, but we do find that directing people to the right professional saves a lot of appointments and time for the patient.
Remote appointments by phone or video are similar – we would like to do more appointments by phone or videolink. That can work very well for minor and routine care, and it means that face to face appointments can be saved for people who have new or more complex problems, or for people who cannot use the phone.
It would also help if people understood just how good our colleagues in pharmacies are. There are many minor health conditions that are stressful and nasty for the patient, but where the pharmacist can help, rather than waiting to see the GP for something.
Laurence Quirk answered on 21 Apr 2023:
There are a combination of issues and solutions needed which involve staff and patients.
Patients – might need more help to understand if they really need an appointment or if they could visit the pharmacist for help/advice. Some patients need help to attend appointments and be reminded of them as there can be many who fail to turn up. This means someone else could have benefited from the time slot and may have missed out.
Staff / Practices – physical space to see patients can be challenging for many GP practices. Improving some spaces would help. Similarly there are not always enough staff to cover all appointments so more staff. Staff on reception can also help patients understand they don’t always need to see a GP. There are lots of other staff who might be as capable and better suited to addressing the patients needs.
There are lots of other ideas out there
Caroline Hatton answered on 26 Apr 2023:
As Krishan has said its a very complex issue without a simple answer. However I agree with Laurence there does need to be better undertsanding of the utilisation from patients and realistic expectations but more importantly promoting self care which includes healthly lifestyle choices so you are less likely to need appointments. Also communities supporting people so that we can help with the increase in people suffereing with poor mental health from problems such as isolation. We can do so much more for ourselves and our communities to support living better longer and reserving the appointments for things that can’t be managed this way.
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