NHS Looks To Telehealth, mHealth Drive Non-Emergencies Out Of the ER


In England, the NHS is making final preparations before this week’s nation-wide kick-off of a program designed to expand out-of-hospital care availability, and therefore drive down the number of non-emergency visits presenting in local emergency rooms. The program, called the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund, was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2013.

The goal of the new program is to extend the office hours in the primary care setting to include nights and weekends, an idea many politicians and public health advocates say will help reduce the reliance on emergency rooms as a non-business hour alternative to primary care. To accomplish this, the NHS will look to the local primary care physicians to reinvent the way that care is accessed in the ambulatory space.

Backed by an $80 million fund, the program began soliciting applications from primary care groups willing to pilot new technologies in hopes that some of them will lead to improved outpatient care delivery, and ultimately drive down off-hours ER visits. Specifically, the program will fund pilot sites willing to offer:

  • access 8am-8pm, and on Saturday and Sunday.
  • more flexible access to care, including through email, instant messenger, Skype, and phone consultations.
  • Greater use of health living apps to help people manage their health without having to visit their primary care clinics as often.
  • online booking of appointments and an ability to be seen at a variety of local primary care offices.

In addition to expanding the use of technology, the program is implementing a new strategy for managing care of the elderly. All citizens over 75 years old will have a single personalized care plan that will be on file and referenced at all care settings, to include nursing homes, primary care practices, and the hospital. Primary care physicians and outpatient specialists will be required to make weekly rounds at the local nursing homes as part of the program.

NHS coordinators spent the last several months reviewing applications and have selected nine pilot organizations, which together represent over 1,000 private practice clinics, that will expand their office hours and incorporate telehealth and mobile health apps into standard outpatient care delivery. The new program goes live Monday.

Next year, feedback from the sites will be solicited and distilled into a broader NHS initiative to further integrate care coordination between private practice and hospital care providers.

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