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Learning from the pandemic: Birmingham Health Partners publishes rapid evaluation study of remote outpatient appointments

Birmingham Health Partners (BHP), the second city’s University-NHS partnership, has called for greater engagement with clinicians and a deeper understanding of patient experience when considering the continued use of remote outpatient appointments post-Covid.

A new report, ‘Learning from the pandemic shift of outpatient services to a remote footing: a rapid evaluation study’, has been published by researchers and clinicians from across the three founding members of BHP (University of Birmingham, Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust), and offers advice about how remote outpatient consultations might best be used as we ‘return to normal’.  The authors set out a suggested approach to making decisions about when a remote outpatient consultation might be appropriate or not; explore the issues facing patients, carers and health professionals; and point to the many operational issues that need to be addressed as new care pathways that embrace both remote and in-person consulting are developed.

The report was co-ordinated by Birmingham Health Partners’ new Rapid Evaluation Service and comprised interviews with a range of BHP staff involved in remote consultations as well as health data gathered on the use of these appointments across both Trusts, and a pragmatic literature review.

Lead author Dr Richard Lewis, Senior Associate at the University of Birmingham’s Health Services Management Centre commented: “While the shift from face-to-face to remote consultations occurred quickly in both Trusts – reaching around half of all consultations at its peak – the proportion of remote consultations has, to some extent, fallen back from pandemic lockdown levels.  This research is intended to inform clinicians and managers as they plan how best to organise outpatient services beyond the pandemic, with a mix of in-person and remote consultation offers.  There is a risk of missing a unique opportunity to draw on experience of sudden and unplanned changes in outpatient consultations to apply these lessons to more sustained reform of how at least some appointments might be delivered longer term.”

Matt Boazman, Interim Chief Executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, added: “This study has demonstrated the significant potential for continued innovation in how we deliver care to patients, particularly across outpatients. It also serves to illustrate the importance of ensuring that we fully consider the views of patients and carers who will have different views on consultation formats depending on their personal circumstances. The authors are right to point out the need to pay careful attention to any potential unintended consequences, including the impact on patient-clinician relationships and ensuring that there are robust mechanisms in place to continue to support safeguarding.”

The report can be downloaded here: 

The BHP Rapid Evaluation Service was established in 2022 to provide time-sensitive, formative evidence on innovations in healthcare and capacity building. It carries out rapid and effective service evaluations, often running in parallel with service implementation; helps spread learning to other sites; and helps build local capacity for in-house evaluations.

The Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) at the University of Birmingham is one of the UK’s foremost centres for research, evaluation, teaching and professional development for health and social care organisations. HSMC has established a unique reputation as a ‘critical friend’ of the healthcare community and strives constantly to bridge the gap between research and practice.