- Around one in three routine outpatient consultations could be done online
- Brits forced to take one million days off work annually for hospital checks
- £231.3m lost to the economy each year due to lack of access to digital outpatient consultations
- Further £265.7m savings to NHS from fewer no-shows and better use of clinicians’ time
One in three routine outpatient hospital attendances could be moved online, saving nearly half a billion pounds per year in lost economic activity and wasted NHS time.
Analysis by digital healthcare platform provider Visiba Care reveals that 25.8 million NHS outpatient consultations in England annually could be delivered using digital technology, allowing patients to get help and advice from their consultant without the need for a hospital visit.
The findings also reveal that more than half of all hospital outpatient attendances (54%) last year were made by people aged 16-64 and show that the wider use of digital consultations would mean nearly one million days off work for NHS consultations could be avoided, pouring an estimated £231.3m back into the British economy.
There would be further savings to the NHS from moving consultations online totalling £265.7m, from a combination of more efficient use of clinicians’ time – digital consultations are typically quicker to complete than face-to-face ones – and fewer missed appointments known as DNAs (‘did not attend’). Scaled across England, digital consultations could save nearly five million hours of clinical time.
Taking avoidable lost economic output and NHS efficiency savings together, wider use of digital consultations would release a cautious estimate of £497m per year.
NHS figures show that hospital outpatient visits have spiralled over the past decade – nearly doubling from 54 to 94 million, at a cost of £8 billion a year.
In April, NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens called on the NHS to ‘lock in’ beneficial changes implemented during the pandemic, including digital consultations. Its aim, set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, is to reduce face-to-face outpatient appointments by a third by 2023-24.
Last year, health secretary Matt Hancock said that the current model of outpatient services is
outdated, wasting too much time and causing too much inconvenience for patients.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Sam Shah, director of the Faculty of Future Health and former director of digital transformation at NHSX, said:
These very important findings reflect the essential need to design accessible health services, using digital channels with modes of consultation that best meet citizen needs. Digital outpatient services could not only help improve economic productivity but will also support reduced road traffic. It’s essential that digital outpatient services are now part of digital transformation in the NHS.
Tina Marshall, Visiba Care UK Country Manager added:
With both the economy and NHS looking to reset in the wake of the pandemic, harnessing the known gains of shifting to digital appointments could play a huge role in relieving pressures on the NHS and wider workforce.
NOTES TO EDITORS
About the analysis:
(a) Economic savings
The Visiba Care analysis assumed that 30% of all outpatient attendances in 2018/19 could have been done digitally, although 3 million were already carried as telephone consultations and were excluded for the purpose of this analysis.
We further assumed that the distribution of age for total outpatient attendances was the same for the outpatient attendances that could have been done digitally. ONS employment rate figures of 76.4% in full-time work and OECD figures of 23.1 % for those in part-time work were used. We assumed that 20% of full-time employees and 10% of part-time employees would need to take half a day off work to attend an outpatient appointment. We valued a day of work at £245 based on the GVA (gross value added) of £35 an hour in 2018 for a standard 7 hour working day.
The above assumptions result in an estimated loss of 944,006 full-time equivalent (FTE) working days, equating to £231.3m in lost economic output.
(b) NHS savings
Again, assuming that 30% of outpatient appointments could be performed digitally, the analysis compares ‘did not attend’ (DNA) rates for face-to-face consultations (8% across English hospitals) with rates experienced by Visiba Care (average of 2%*).
This suggests outpatient DNAs could be reduced by 2.21m across England and save a total of £265.7m based on the cost of an outpatient DNA of £120.
Interviews are available and can be arranged through:
Julia Simac, ZPB Associates
Phone: +44 (0) 7834 523001
*for patient-initated appointments