Arch Osteoporos. 2020 Mar 21;15(1):53. doi: 10.1007/s11657-020-0703-1.
We introduced an electronic triage system into our osteoporosis service to actively manage referral demand in a busy outpatient service. Our study demonstrated the effectiveness of e-triage in supporting alternative management pathways, through use of virtual advice and direct to investigation services, to improve patient access.
Osteoporosis referrals are increasing with awareness of the potential for prevention of fragility fracture and with complex decision making around management with long-term bisphosphonate therapy. We examined whether active triage of referrals might improve referral management processes and patient access to osteoporosis services.
We implemented electronic triage (e-triage) of referrals to our osteoporosis service using the Northern Ireland electronic health care record. This included the option of ‘advice only’, direct to investigation with DXA or face-to-face appointments at the consultant-led complex osteoporosis service. We anticipated that there was scope to manage patient flow direct to investigation, or to provide referring clinicians with clinical advice without the need for a face-to-face assessment, at the consultant-led specialist service.
We reviewed e-triage outcomes of 809 referrals (692 F; 117 M) to osteoporosis specialist services (mean age 65 ± 16.5 years) over a 12-month period. There was a high degree of agreement for the triage category between the referring clinician and specialist services (741/809). 73.3% attended a face-to-face appointment at the consultant-led clinic, while active triage enabled direct to investigation (18.4%) or discharge (8.3%) in the remainder. The mean time between receipt of an electronic referral and e-triage was 3 days over the 12-month period as compared with 2.1 days (median 1.1 days) when annual leave periods were excluded.
E-triage supports effective referral management in a busy osteoporosis service. Efficiency is limited by reliance on a sole clinician and 5 day working at present. There is scope to further improve systems access through multidisciplinary team working, virtual clinics and future information technology developments.