Introduction: The majority of patients with musculo-skeletal problems referred to hospitals in the UK have to wait for months, if not over a year, before finally seeing an orthopaedic surgeon. In Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow, the waiting time for an out-patient appointment was 182 days in 1995, with only 20% of the referrals requiring surgery. The aim of this paper was to reduce the out-patient waiting times based on a co-ordinated team approach.
Methods: An outpatient musculo-skeletal service was developed over a 7-year period at Stobhill Hospital. The traditional consultant-based model, in which the consultant and a trainee saw all new patients referred to the hospital, was gradually replaced with a team approach, based on continuous reconfiguration of the roles of the orthopaedic surgeon and rheumatologist and extending the roles of nurses, physiotherapists and podiatrists. This was achieved by: (i) protocol-based daily triage for all referrals to the most appropriate health professional in the team, by the senior out-patient nursing staff; (ii) allocation of appointments based on clinical priority, with a fast-track for urgent cases; and (iii) improvement of inter-disciplinary communication, facilitating the retraction as well as the extension of traditional roles.
Results: Despite the number of GP referrals to the orthopaedic out-patient department at Stobhill nearly doubling in a period of 5 years, the out-patient waiting time decreased by about 50% (90 days from 182 days). This reduction in waiting times improved patient and GP satisfaction levels. We also noticed an improved morale and personal development of the health professionals as they saw patients appropriate to their skills and expertise.
Conclusion: The team's experience demonstrates the effectiveness of a team approach in tackling what is often seen as the insoluble problem of orthopaedic waiting times. This is based on excellent communication and collaboration, with a clear aim of improving patient care that is evidence based.