‘Paper Clinics’ – a model for improving delivery of outpatient colorectal services

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ObjectivesThe overburdening of colorectal out-patient clinics necessarily leads to delays in time from referral to consultation and subsequent clinic attendance. This study aimed to ascertain the feasibility of ‘paper clinic’ follow-up rather than all patients receiving a routine follow-up appointment following investigation. A more efficient outpatient follow-up process should reduce unnecessary follow-up, thereby facilitating the speedy investigation and diagnosis of patients through changes in clinic profiles.MethodsFrom August 2001 all patients seen in the outpatient clinic of one (part time) Consultant colorectal surgeon, who required investigation, were prospectively recorded on a ‘paper clinic’ form. These patients were given the necessary test request forms but were not given a further outpatient appointment. The results of the investigations were reviewed, together with the patients' medical records at a formal fortnightly ‘paper clinic’ session carried out by the Consultant and Nurse Consultant, and a treatment plan derived. Patients then followed one of 5 follow-up pathways and were notified in writing with a copy to their GP.ResultsDuring a 24-month period a total of 897 patients were reviewed using the ‘paper clinic’ follow-up system. Of these, 285 (31.8%) patients were discharged without further follow-up. In a given 3-month period when the clinic was well established, 152 patients were reviewed, of whom 27% were discharged from follow-up, 17% received SOS appointments, 13% required further investigation (and consequently were returned to ‘paper clinic’ follow-up), and 7% received Nurse led follow-up. In this 3-month period 64% of patients reviewed by ‘paper clinic’ follow-up did not return to Surgical Outpatient's and 12% received a Surgical Outpatient appointment for review.Conclusion‘Paper clinic’ follow-up is an effective and feasible follow-up alternative, resulting in a major decrease in outpatient follow-up burden. This has allowed the redesign of the outpatient clinic profile allowing for an increase in new urgent slots, and more rapid clinic follow up review of those patients who need it. Re-design and rationalization of existing services can result in considerable service improvement. Expanding clinics should not be considered the only option when faced with capacity and demand issues.

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