We are celebrating World Autism Acceptance Week from 28 March to 3 April. A time to focus on our understanding of the condition and how society works for autistic people.
How access to primary care can affect those with autism
According to the National Autistic Society, one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.[i] The UK Government’s ‘National Strategy for Autistic Children, Young People and Adults’ outlines the aim to reduce the healthcare inequalities faced by those with autism to ensure longer and healthier living. As part of this guidance, it has been noted that those with autism display a higher risk of having other health problems, which can be worsened by feeling unable to reach out to the care providers needed.[ii]
Characteristics of autism such as social interaction challenges, sensitivity to light and sound, extreme anxiety and restrictive behaviours can make it incredibly difficult for some to contact primary care settings, such as their GP.
According to the pre-published findings of a research team from Ireland, USA and UK in November 2020, 50.5 per cent of autistic respondents to their survey stated that the GP waiting room environment was a barrier to access.
“Autistic adults reported a preference for online or text-based appointment booking, facility to email in advance the reason for consultation, first or last clinic appointment and a quiet place to wait.”[iii]
A particularly negative experience can lead patients to no longer use the service which could result in a decline in health. By using online consultation systems, primary care providers can support patients with autism before the consultation even takes place.
Online consultation systems can also support access for those with autism by being flexible to their personal preferences, such as being able to stay in a comfortable environment that they are familiar with and being able to work around a routine they prefer.
Furthermore, 41 per cent of respondent to the survey stated that they preferred communicating in writing. Online consultation systems allowing free text may therefore better support autistic people.
By accommodating the preferences of autistic patients, primary care providers can better support those with autism as they can establish an alternative solution to face-to-face communications that will benefit both the patient and the staff.
With a long-term focus on the digitalisation of primary care, this has meant that online consultation options are readily available, and better equipped in supporting the preferences of those with autism.
What is PATCHS?
Advanced has partnered with the University of Manchester and Spectra Analytics to provide PATCHS – an all-in-one online consultation solution for patient triage and workflow management.
Research carried out by the University of Manchester and Spectra Analytics has also found that autistic patients prefer using PATCHS to traditional patient consultation methods like the telephone or in-person visits.
PATCHS uses a few simple open-ended free-text questions to allow patients to fully explain the details of their request in their own words. These free-text questions can give those with autism the opportunity to describe their queries in their own time, without traditional scheduling pressures or uncomfortable face-to-face contact.
PATCHS then prioritises these requests based on clinical need, supporting users with two-way messaging, video consultation and image / document upload functionality to make online consultations quick and easy.
Patients have their own easy to access user account, giving them the freedom to view all current and previous requests without the need to enter their details each time they contact their GP.
Ric Thompson Managing Director - Health & Care at Advanced says, “PATCHS is a fantastic example of how digital solutions can transform the way GP Practices manage the specific needs of individual patients. PATCHS has a track record of supporting patients who have previously struggled to communicate easily or effectively with their GP and that is something I am proud of, particularly as we celebrate World Autism Acceptance Week.”
Other ways PATCHS helps with access include:
- Online access supports patients who struggle with traditional GP practice channels such as those with hearing impairments or anxiety
- Carer (proxy) accounts to support non-digital patients who cannot access online services themselves
- Automated language translation into over 30 languages, supporting patients with English as a second language
- Works with standard audio accessibility systems that integrate with web browsers e.g. speech to text
- Meets Accessible Information Standards and its use by GP practices complies with the requirements of DCB1605.
PATCHS also supports practices with communication channels and automation, including:
- Bulk and ad-hoc messaging (email and SMS)
- Pre-built and custom-clinical questionnaires
- Artificial Intelligence-powered triage and workflows.
Clinical system integration with EMIS, SystmOne and Advanced Docman 10x. Learn more about PATCHS and its features - https://www.oneadvanced.com/solutions/patchs/
[i] National Autistic Society, 28th March 2022 - https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism
[ii] UK Government, Department of Health and Care, Policy Paper ‘The national strategy for autistic children, young people and adults: 2021 to 2026’ - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-strategy-for-autistic-children-young-people-and-adults-2021-to-2026/the-national-strategy-for-autistic-children-young-people-and-adults-2021-to-2026
[iii] MedRxiv, ‘Barriers to healthcare for autistic adults: Consequences & policy implications. A cross-sectional study’ - https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.01.20050336v2#:~:text=The%20highest%2Drated%20barriers%20by,waiting%20room%20environment%20(50.5%25)