Around one in four adults in the UK have two or more health conditions. Managing the needs of people with multiple conditions can be complex for both the patient and the healthcare professionals that care for them.
In this article, we will be looking into some of the challenges faced, and how they can be mitigated by digital solutions.
Let’s start with a scenario
Paul has sustained injuries from a motorcycle accident. He suffers trauma to his leg, which requires surgery. Following a successful surgical procedure, he has weekly rehabilitation sessions with a physiotherapist, as well as follow-up appointments with an orthopaedic consultant.
However, due to his injury, Paul is unable to continue in his construction job for a sustained period of time and can no longer participate in his favourite hobbies. All of which increase his levels of anxiety which develops into depression, so his GP refers him to counselling.
In this scenario, the patient has received care from emergency services, his GP, the orthopaedics department at his local hospital, physiotherapy and counselling services. Paul’s patient journey has featured multiple locations, departments, healthcare specialists and treatments.
Each healthcare professional involved in treating and caring for Paul has a unique specialism and makes a vital contribution in his recovery; but in cases like this, both patient and clinicians face several challenges along the way.
What challenges are experienced by patients with multiple conditions?
Lack of continuity
Patients like Paul find themselves having to repeatedly describe their experience and symptoms to every clinician they see. This is understandably frustrating, particularly for those with multiple conditions, as it means constantly going over the same conversations with several professionals. This fragmented process can slow the speed of treatment and impact on the consistency of care, which has the potential to put the patients’ health at risk.
A digital solution that provides up-to-date patient data from multiple providers would greatly improve the patient experience and enhance continuity of care. Software solutions like this also strengthen the connection between patients and clinicians, ensuring patient-centred care is delivered.
When care data isn’t immediately accessible, patients often have to wait for each different healthcare provider to share medical records with each other, before treatment can be progressed to the next stage. Slow communication between providers inevitably delays patient treatment, potentially leading to the patient’s conditions worsening.
In Paul’s case for instance, his physiotherapy treatment wouldn’t be able to proceed without the GP or consultant referral or the scan data from the hospital that treated him. Without an efficient transfer of patient data, Paul’s physiotherapist can’t deliver the precise type of therapy he needs.
By integrating systems across providers, patient documentation can be transferred quickly and securely.
The health and social care sectors have traditionally relied on physical, paper-based records being posted or faxed between different healthcare providers. This time-consuming and inefficient method of sharing documentation and patient data can lead to delays in treatment. It can also result in further complications to their health or additional conditions developing.
Digital solutions on the other hand, can streamline this process, saving time, money and resource. Being able to respond to patients quickly, improves their overall experience and ultimately gives focus to the delivery of care itself, rather than to the paperwork.
What challenges are faced by healthcare professionals?
In Paul’s case, his orthopaedic consultant will be focused on the outcomes of his surgery, without necessarily being aware of Paul’s multiple conditions. Clinicians struggle to piece together the records established in other healthcare settings, as the information could be in inaccessible systems or buried below masses of written paperwork. Being unable to consider the whole picture, clinicians have less visibility of how their choices may impact on their patient’s other conditions.
By utilising digital systems, health professionals are able to share records and liaise with different sectors, to help reach conclusions best suited for their patient.
Lack of total visibility
When caring for patients with multiple conditions, numerous healthcare professionals and specialists are inevitably involved. This makes the patient data and documentation more varied and complex than it is for patients with a single condition. The use of paper-based systems makes the process even more complicated. Clinicians find themselves wasting too much time chasing and waiting for these records to be written and shared. This can restrict and limit visibility of the patient’s overall needs.
Digital solutions have the advantage of collating and presenting all patient records together from multiple sources, which can then be quickly reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team.
Delays in referrals
Any delay in retrieving patient records, has a knock-on effect on the next stage of a patient’s healthcare journey. Using Paul’s example, if the GP is still awaiting results from the orthopaedics department at the hospital, they’re unable to refer him onto physiotherapy.
By digitalising records, healthcare providers are better able to streamline a patient’s care journey and achieve better outcomes. The faster the information is shared, the faster the patient’s needs are met.
How can these challenges be addressed?
The NHS Long Term Plan states that there needs to be greater use of community care, so that it is more aligned with primary care to encourage a more proactive and personalised approach.
As part of proposals for integrating care, the Government has stated “We will aim to have shared care records for all citizens by 2024 that provide a single, functional health and care record which citizens, caregivers and care teams can all safely access.”
Digital solutions provide organisations with the opportunity to improve internal communications, enhance collaboration with other providers and more efficiently transfer patients from one specialist to the next. All of which can help support the care journey of a patient with multiple conditions.
It is anticipated that ICSs will start publishing their strategies, outlining how they aim to integrate community and primary care, in the latter half of 2022. Healthcare professionals and service users will be interested to see what steps will be put in place to support those with multiple health conditions.
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If you are considering your digital options and how they can enhance the standard of care delivered in your organisation, check out our health and social care solutions. Designed to improve integration and effective communication.