As health services have faced unprecedented challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, time, staff and resources have all been stretched to their limits. As the patient backlog grows, the negative impact this has on patient experience cannot be ignored.
Patient experience does not just consider how long an individual has to spend in a waiting room. Patient experience also directly impacts the likelihood of individuals seeking out medical advice, effective management of conditions and identifying illnesses that need treatment as early as possible.
We look into how the pandemic has impacted patient experience and why it is more important now than ever.
COVID-19 and the Impact on Healthcare Delivery
The COVID-19 pandemic brought unparalleled levels of pressure on the healthcare industry, leaving the NHS significantly overworked and understaffed. As COVID-19 cases accelerated, the ability to provide care for existing conditions had to be limited to control the spread of the virus.
The inability to conduct many face-to-face appointments and priority given to COVID patients has meant the patient experience has suffered. This has led to pent-up demand, with 5.8 million patients waiting to start treatment in September 2021 — the highest level since records began.
While doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals have strived to deliver the best possible care to all patients, the reality has been that the patient experience of those with less life-threatening conditions may have suffered due to the lack of time and resources available to deliver healthcare services.
Increased Number of Patients Accessing Services for More Developed Conditions
With increased delays comes the greater complexity of conditions that need treatment. As a result of the pandemic, people have had to wait longer for treatment or put off seeking medical advice to limit the spread of cases. Therefore, this has led to patients' conditions progressing or becoming more developed, resulting in more complex treatment than they would initially require.
Add to that the increase of new and unresearched conditions brought on by COVID, such as long-COVID and viral-induced illnesses, the number of patients seeking treatment for developed conditions has increased dramatically.
Of the people waiting to start treatment in September 2021, 300,000 have been waiting more than a year and 12,000 more than two years. This is an unmatched backlog that health professionals will need time to work through, further impacting the patient experience.
Digital Changes Need to Improve the Services Currently Offered
Transformational technologies may be necessary to tackle these service challenges. Digital leaders will need to identify opportunities for technological improvements that will positively impact the delivery of services.
Health services have already demonstrated that the quick roll-out of technological enhancements can dramatically impact healthcare delivery. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we saw an almost overnight adoption of remote consultations and triage-first pathways to ensure care could continue.
Investing in digital technologies will create time and cost efficiencies for health organisations and help improve patient experience, restoring confidence in health services throughout the UK.
Ensuring Patients Are Invested in Their Own Health
Improving patient experience will also increase the likelihood of patients investing in their own health. They may be less likely to delay health appointments due to the perception that access is limited or timeframes may be lengthy.
Introducing digital tools to make access to care easier and enable engagement to increase could allow doctors to identify illnesses earlier, reducing the need for complex care and minimising the backlog currently experienced by healthcare organisations.
Find Out More About How Digital Tools Can Transform Patient Experience
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