Dr Theresa Barnes: Imagining new pathways of outpatient care
Our first summit on outpatient care was an excellent example of partnership between the Royal College of Physicians and NHS England supported by the Patients Association, who worked together to bring the event to fruition. The stunning views from The Spine provided the perfect backdrop for the important work that began on this day.
A broad array of key thought leaders from across health and social care including patients, clinicians, primary care, community services and allied health professionals, among many others, began the process which will eventually inform the development of the national outpatient strategy.
The first summit concentrated on engaging stakeholders, and considering how we might dismantle longstanding outpatient constructs, to pave the way for imagining new care pathways for the future.
One question that proved surprisingly difficult to answer was, ‘What is the value and purpose of outpatient care?’. This stimulated some particularly vigorous debate, including the fundamental question of whether we should continue to use the term ‘outpatients’. It was widely acknowledged that using terms such as outpatients may serve to constrain the development of novel pathways that don’t involve the physical location of an outpatient department or the concept of a series of face-to-face appointments. There was significant agreement that during the process of the summits, we should move away from the term outpatients in favour of considering pathways of care.
Important themes that arose from the day included the integration of services across the care system, co-production of services with patient partners, a focus on measuring success differently to include patient outcomes and experience, the use of digital solutions to enable care and improving communication. The tricky question of aligning financial incentives was also never far from participants' minds.
The level of agreement during the entire day was quite striking. There was a sense of significant concordance between stakeholders about the need for radical change and the broad directions for that change. The challenge will be to flesh out the details – this will be the work of future summits.
We are planning three further summits, which will cover: accessing pathways of care, innovative models, long-term condition management and complex patient management. Underpinning each of them will be the cross-cutting themes of digital transformation, addressing health inequalities and behavioural change. The summits are only one way we’re encouraging people to feed in ideas and insights there's also a wide range of engagement across a number of interested organisations and representatives. If you have ideas of your own or examples of good practice to share, we would love to hear from you.