A phone app that puts GPs in touch with hospital consultants for expert advice is also being used by dentists in Swansea Bay in a UK first.
After being used successfully by GPs, Consultant Connect has now been adopted by dentists in both general dental services (GDS) and community dental services (CDS) in Swansea Bay.
There are currently 19 GDS practices signed up to use Consultant Connect, making Swansea Bay University Health Board the first region in the UK to use the app within dentistry.
Staff can access advice on behalf of their patients from consultants in orthodontics or restorative dentistry.
This can help decide whether patients need treatment by a consultant in a hospital setting or provide clinicians with support for treatment planning.
The app allows staff to confidentially send messages, images and other personal data securely to consultants based in secondary care, who can provide support and advice on treatment options or signpost to appropriate services when necessary.
Only 40 per cent of the queries raised by clinicians through Consultant Connect have needed a referral so far, meaning patients haven’t had to wait for a hospital appointment.
The restorative dental department has also achieved a 43 per cent reduction in referrals for patients discussed via the app.
Karl Bishop, the health board’s Dental Director, said: “Staff can either make a call or send a message with photos and files to colleagues in a quick way to hopefully reduce the number of referrals that end up going to secondary care.
“Initially, we started using Consultant Connect in CDS predominantly for the secure photo-taking function within the app.
“From that point, we started thinking about how we could use it in other aspects of dentistry as well.
“It has been working really well within the orthodontics team.
“There is not normally a way to share imagery and files between clinicians and consultants. Often a patient will be referred when in reality a quick conversation or review of an image could prevent that.
“The app helps staff to triage and hopefully improves patient management in the appropriate setting.”
It is already helping to prioritise patients who may need to be seen more urgently, while decreasing the wait for those who may only require some advice. It also helps ensure patients are seen by the most appropriate clinician.
Dr Ewart Johnstone, a dental practitioner with a special interest in orthodontics based at Gwaun Cae Gurwen Dental Practice, has used Consultant Connect to contact orthodontic specialists for advice.
He said: “With Consultant Connect we get rapid responses to our queries – within a day or less.
“This prevents delay and allows us to keep patients quickly informed on their treatment, reducing patient queries and pressure on the practice reception with phone call queries.
“We can upload images and files, such as X-rays, and attach these with our messages. It’s easy to do on the Consultant Connect platform and means the specialist reviewing the case will have all the information needed to provide us with advice about our patient.
“The service is straightforward to use. All I need to do is log in to start a message. When I get a response to a query, I receive an app and email notification.”
Meryl Spencer, a consultant orthodontist at Morriston Hospital, has been responding to requests for support coming in via the service.
“Consultant Connect is great because we’re able to have a conversation with our colleagues, which often ends up saving a lot of worry and time both for them and their patients,” she said.
“In general, the service is of huge benefit to patients. Being able to advise on orthodontic treatment plans means the dentist with a special interest can start certain cases much sooner.
“Because of recent pressures, the patients would have been waiting probably a year to 18 months before being assessed by us.
“The Orthodontic Department at Morriston Hospital covers a large geographical area. Some patients could be travelling one and a half to two hours to see us for something that is relatively straightforward.
“Saving these specific groups of patients having to travel to attend a hospital appointment helps environmentally as well.”