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.
PURPOSE: 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.
METHODS: 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.
RESULTS: 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.
CONCLUSION: 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.