A new NHS electronic outpatient system should halve the number of missed appointments in England and save at least £50 million, developers say.
The NHS e-Referral service (e-RS) will be introduced from 1 October 2018 that will enable patients to book or alter appointments online, using a mobile phone or tablet.
The switch to electronic only referrals will mean doctors and patients will be able to see in advance which services are available and how quickly the patient can be seen.
The introduction of the new system comes after the number of missed outpatient appointments for 2016/17 reached almost eight million, the equivalent of 6.7% of the total number of appointments in England.
So far 19 trusts have achieved paper switch-off, with more in line to do so before the end of March. Most trusts have agreed target dates for all referrals to be electronic ahead of the October deadline.
Dr Stephen Miller, national medical director of the e-RS programme in NHS Digital, said: “The NHS e-Referral Service helps to relieve the burden on GPs by cutting down on their paperwork and reducing the number of patients who go back to them to find out what is happening with their hospital appointment.
“The system also reduces the risk of letters going missing and allows doctors to more easily track their patients’ referrals.”
Alex Bickerton, a consultant at Yeovil Hospital, one of the trusts that has made the switch to electronic referrals, described e-RS as “the way forward”.
He added: “It is a slick way at looking at referrals and from my point-of-view it means I am not reliant on being in my office and my secretary handing me paper referrals and I can look at referrals and vet referrals at any time.
“For example, if I have a patient that doesn’t turn up and I am in clinic, I can look at those referrals and I have got 10 minutes spare I can do some of that work, so the work gets done quicker and more efficiently as well.”