Philip Brentnall, Clinical Lead at Magentus, discusses how connected diagnostic information systems and data flows can help address growing health service backlogs and deliver better patient outcomes.
It has been almost three years since the first coronavirus case was identified in the UK, and we are still coming to terms with the devasting impact it has had on many aspects of our lives, including access to healthcare. Advancement of the vaccination programme provided a course through the hardship, but the pandemic has left a lasting impression on the NHS, where we continue to see a bottleneck in diagnostic testing and routine procedures.
The waiting list for hospital treatment in England has hit a record high of seven million, a significant blowout from the 4.2 million waiting for treatment before the pandemic.
Hospitals are carrying out 12 per cent fewer operations and treatments than before the pandemic and waiting lists are blowing out further due to a lack of beds and staff.
Medical teams have warned that some diagnostic services in the NHS are “close to failure”, with more than 184,000 patients in England waiting three months or longer for key tests.
These statistics are a stark reminder that we are facing a growing crisis with postponed or cancelled treatments – one that will only worsen the longer we fail to address it. The tenacity and commitment of healthcare workers has been inspirational during the pandemic. However this level of crisis management cannot be sustained – we now need to look ahead to how services can be re-engineered, and digitisation accelerated, to combat the backlog and reduce forward pressure. While some trusts are taking localised steps to curb the curve, like Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust buying its local Nightingale hospital to reduce surgery waiting times in the county, we need to consider whole-system and permanent workflow changes that enable longer term improvements. Earlier and more accurate diagnosis is a crucial step towards implementing the kinds of interventions that can reduce the growing burden on hospital beds and surgical teams. Integrating diagnostics across disciplines offers a revolutionary step in this respect.
Creating unity in pathology and radiology
Pathology and radiology sit at the intersection of nearly all hospital episodes. Most patients will have one or more laboratory or radiological tests, with clinical decisions about treatment relying on these diagnostic tests being carried out and reported quickly and efficiently. This drives home the growing case for integrating diagnostic services to reduce the NHS backlog and accelerate diagnosis and rapid commencement of all treatment, particularly life-threatening conditions such as cancer.
Despite sharing a common goal in medical diagnostics, these two departments (and even sub-departments within the fields) frequently operate in silos without the ability to easily connect or share data. The HSJ recently reported that one in three pathology networks are still running testing services independently at trust level, despite having been asked to consolidate the services five years ago. Often it is the prevalence of legacy clinical systems and processes that limits data capture and sharing, which negates the obvious benefits integrated care could offer across different departments, care providers and disciplinary teams (MDT).
Greater focus on the increased adoption of Healthcare IT solutions, especially during the pandemic, has provided opportunities to create optimised, integrated networks in pathology and radiology. This in turn helps to erode previously rigid organisational boundaries, remove limitations in resourcing, and create a single integrated view of diagnostic tests, images, reports and results to help streamline processes. Added benefits include the enablement of more flexible home working and more convenient, quicker access to specialists or secondary opinions.
Collaborative diagnostics platforms help multidisciplinary teams connect, validate and provide inputs in a single diagnostics platform. Integrated diagnostics ensures patient decisions can be made with combined, validated and automated reports across radiology and pathology. Teams can track decisions and provide inputs in real-time, supporting turnaround time for diagnosis and reducing the decision-to-treatment time.
How we can help
By integrating data and systems across diagnostic services, we can reduce the time and expense spent on processes and provide clinicians with faster access to complete result sets, speeding up clinical decisions and the commencement of treatment. This also carries operational benefits such as easing the burden of administrative tasks including manual input or duplication to support the easy flow of information between team members.
Our best-of-breed solutions simplify complex workflows. Tailored to the needs of customers, our powerful Radiology Information System (RIS) helps radiology departments accurately, rapidly and securely share information between multiple sites, users and organisations. Integrating with technologies including Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it gives teams the tools and insights to manage every step of the patient journey towards better outcomes. Removing all silos, fostering innovation and integrating workflows helps every system become more efficient and effective.
As the UK’s leading RIS provider and fastest growing LIMS supplier, we have the platform and foundations in place to support organisations as they seek to seamlessly unlock improvements in integrated diagnostic services.