Virtual hospital appointments save 13.5 million patient miles

(Last Updated On: September 7, 2021)

Video and phone appointments held at hospitals across Devon saved patients an estimated 13.5 million miles of travelling; equivalent to circumnavigating the globe 550 times.

The NHS also estimates that, in the 12 months to 23 August 2021, the benefits of running virtual appointments also saved patients more than 277,679 hours in travel time and staying at home led to a reduction of over 2,500 tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Reducing air pollution through patients making fewer car journeys can also directly impact on people’s health.

Video and telephone consultations are also popular with many patients. Feedback on remote consultations carried out by Northern Devon Healthcare Trust showed patients saved time and money in travelling, were less reliant on others to get to appointments and that people found the experience less stressful and felt more comfortable in their own home.

The Coronavirus pandemic forced many hospital appointments to take place virtually via video calls or telephone. Easing of restrictions means more appointments are taking place face to face. However, where appropriate, virtual appointments will continue to be used to benefit patients and staff.

Ellie Taylor has treatment at Northern Devon Healthcare Trust for psoriatic arthritis. She found travelling for face-to-face appointments very time consuming: “I had to allow 1 hour 45 minutes driving and parking time for a 15 minute appointment. It might take more than three hours out of my working day.” Ellie found trialling virtual appointments made a huge difference: “It was so easy and convenient. The information I was provided with was so easy to follow.”

Consultant Rheumatologist Stuart Kyle, who is based at North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple, said: “If a patient needs to be seen face to face because they need an examination, they have communication difficulties or need a diagnostic test we would see them in person, but otherwise keeping patients at home where they are safe, more relaxed and communicate better has to be an advantage.

“As a clinician I think video works better, there’s very little delay, you can share images and leaflets and direct patients to websites. You can use the text chat within video calls to explain clearly what their diagnosis is and what the next steps are. Our feedback is that patients really like it. There are also additional benefits such as the environmental impact.”

Virtual appointments benefit the environment and are part of the NHS commitment both nationally and locally to reduce carbon emissions.

By holding 350,015 hospital appointments online in Devon in the 12 months to 23 August 2021, it is estimated that:

– 13.5 million (13,579,978) patient miles have been saved. This is equivalent to circumnavigating the world 550 times

– 2,503.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) were saved – it would take 1,317 hectares of forest to capture the same amount of CO2

– 277,679 hours of patient time was saved in travelling and parking

– 161,892 parking spaces were freed up

Darin Halifax, Integrated Care System for Devon’s Lead for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise, said: “We are committed to reducing carbon emissions because we are in a climate emergency and we know that air pollution and climate change contribute to a number of health problems for our population ranging from asthma to circulatory problems. It is not enough for us to treat people who have these issues – we have to play our part in reducing carbon emissions at source to reduce them happening in the first place. This isn’t just about saving lives, this is about saving the planet for future generations.”

In October 2020 the NHS nationally became the world’s first national health system to commit to become “carbon net zero” backed by clear deliverables and milestones. The NHS has committed to two targets:

– for the NHS Carbon Footprint (emissions under NHS direct control), net zero by 2040, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2028-2032, and;
– for the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus, (which includes our wider supply chain), net zero by 2045, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2036-2039.

The commitment comes amid growing evidence of the health impacts of climate change and air pollution and aims to save thousands of lives and hospitalisations across the country.

Air pollution is linked to life threatening conditions like heart disease, stroke and lung cancer, and academics have linked high pollution days with hundreds of extra out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and hospital admissions for stroke and asthma.

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