Specific timely appointments for triage to reduce wait times in a medical outpatient clinic: protocol of a pre-post study with process evaluation
journal contributionposted on 11.01.2022, 05:22 by Andrea LewisAndrea Lewis, Nicholas TaylorNicholas Taylor, PW Carney, Katherine HardingKatherine Harding
Background: Managing demand for services is a problem in many areas of healthcare, including specialist medical outpatient clinics. Some of these clinics have long waiting lists with variation in access for referred people. A model of triage and appointment allocation has been developed and tested that has reduced waiting times by about a third in community outpatient services. This study aims to determine whether the model can be applied in the setting of a specialist medical outpatient clinic to reduce wait time from referral to first appointment. Methods: A pre-post study will collect data before and after implementing the Specific Timely Appointments for Triage (STAT) model of access and triage. The study will incorporate a pre-implementation period of 12 months, an implementation period of up to 6 months and a post STAT-implementation period of 6 months. The setting will be the epilepsy clinic at a metropolitan health service in Melbourne. Included will be all people referred to the clinic, or currently waiting, during the allocated periods of data collection (total sample estimated n = 975). Data routinely collected by the health service and qualitative data from staff will be analysed to determine the effects of introducing the STAT model. The primary outcome will be wait time, measured by number of patients on the wait list at monthly time points and the mean number of days waited from referral to first appointment. Secondary outcomes will include patient outcomes, such as admission to hospital while waiting, and service outcomes, including rate of discharge. Analysis of the primary outcome will include interrupted time series analysis and simple comparisons of the pre and post-implementation periods. Process evaluation will include investigation of the fidelity of the intervention, adaptations required and qualitative analysis of the experiences of clinic staff. Discussion: Prompt access to service and optimum patient flow is important for patients and service providers. Testing the STAT model in a specialist medical outpatient clinic will add to the evidence informing service providers and policy makers about how the active management of supply and demand in health care can influence wait times. The results from this study may be applicable to other specialist medical outpatient clinics, potentially improving access to care for many people.