Skype Will Be Used For  Some Local Patient Appointments

Ground-breaking pilot project has positive results for all

A ground breaking project to use Skype for patient appointments has been a huge success and will be rolled out as an alternative to all patient consultations, South West London and St Georges Mental Health NHS Trust have announced.

The Trust has been piloting the use of Skype for patient appointments with two services at the Trust - Sutton Community Mental Health Teams and the Deaf Community Teams - to see if patients benefit from the opportunity to have an alternative way to have consultations.

Skype is a revolutionary use of new technology, giving patients the chance to talk to their doctor from the comfort and convenience of their own home or office, instead of travelling to a clinic.

Attending appointments can be very time-consuming and expensive for patients; travel time combined with the sessions themselves can take up the majority of the day. For patients who work or those who are unable to leave their house for physical or mental health reasons this can make attending harder.  

The Trust’s pilot looked at how the attendance at appointments could be improved, and during the pilot, patients from the two services were offered Skype as another option for a consultation, and as addition to, and not replacement, for face to face and telephone consultations.

Patients did not take part if they were not comfortable with the idea or if clinicians did not think they were suitable.  All initial consultations remained face-to-face, were only permitted on Trust devices, and had to be conducted in a quiet place where they would not be interrupted or overheard by other people.

All patients who used Skype were very positive about the process, and all patients said they would definitely use it again in the future.

In the case of Deaf patients, a Skype consultation also reduced the need to book a British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter for a remote consultation, saving time and money.   As a result of the success, the use of Skype for consultations will now be rolled out throughout the Trust in December.   

Microsoft have commended the Trust’s innovative approach and created a case study video to highlight the success of the pilot and encourage its use in other suitable health environments. 

The Trust provides hospital inpatient and outpatient services, social care, community-based services and support to people in their own homes, and services to a number of London boroughs, including Merton.

Stuart Adams, Consultant Psychiatrist, Clinical Director for Sutton and Merton said: “I am delighted by the success of our Skype for Business pilot.  There are some obvious advantages to using Skype for Business for those who would benefit from using it, and our patients have given us very positive feedback and have consistently told us that they are grateful for the alternatives options to face to face consultations. 

“We are really pleased that this is being rolled out throughout the Trust and that all our teams will have Skype consultations as an option. This will be especially useful for our national services, where patients from all over the UK can get in touch where appropriate more easily.”

Dr Suhana Ahmed, who is a member of the clinical team who took part in the pilot, said: “I feel very passionately about the advantages of Skype for Business consultations for those patients that it is suitable for.  Skype for Business consultations give more information than telephone calls as I can see patient’s expressions – which is very important in mental health. 

“Skype for Business will also help patients who find it difficult to take time off work, or can’t travel to appointments because of health issues that make it difficult for them to make the journey.

“Our younger patients may also find it easier to use, as they may feel very comfortable talking via a screen and so may get more out of a Skype for Business session.”

Herbert Klein, Communication Facilitator for Deaf Adult & Children, Young People & Family Services, said: "Skype for Business is a good opportunity for Deaf staff to communicate face to face with other professionals, both Deaf or hearing, using BSL and without having to use a BSL Interpreter. This means Deaf staff will have equality of access to communication routes, building better access and creating more effective rapport.

“Without doubt this will open the door for the Deaf community to achieve parity with varied agencies or people and break down the barriers of poor communication between the Deaf and hearing world."

Ranjeet Kaile, Head of Communications and Engagement, who was responsible for the overall programme, and introduced Skype for Business technology to the Trust said: “People have been using Skype for many years outside of work to connect with each other. It makes absolute sense to use this technology in the workplace to help make communications easier and to reduce the impact of travel on the environment and on NHS resources.

“I am excited about the real potential for using Skype for Business in healthcare. It is innovative, positive and a welcome addition to the way we can improve the experience for our patients and continue to deliver excellent care.”

Suzy Foster, Director, Microsoft UK Healthcare said:  “It’s great to see our technology being used in a way that makes a real difference to people. Video consultations provide a convenient and flexible alternative to face to face appointments.

“South West London and St Georges Mental Health NHS Trust are leading the way in offering innovative alternatives to traditional consultations, and proving the benefits of using Skype for Business, both for patients and healthcare professionals.”

December 15, 2015