Moorfields study reduces unnecessary hospital referrals

Researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital have developed a unique cloud based technology in collaboration with software company Big Picture, which aims to remotely assess whether patients require a referral to a hospital eye service. When this technology was trialled, around half of the patients initially categorised as needing a hospital referral were found to not require one, significantly reducing the number of unnecessary referrals.

This cloud based referral platform allows two way communications between community optometrists, general practitioners and ophthalmologists. Both clinical and imaging data is shared with the ophthalmologists in a secure and trusted manner. The ophthalmologists can then then remotely triage the patients to which eye care service they require and automatically communicate this information to the patients and their carers. In the study which implemented this referral platform, 52% of patients initially classified as needing a hospital referral pathway did not need a specialist referral. Reducing the number of unnecessary referrals could reduce the demand on ophthalmologist services and avoid patients having to make visits that are not needed.

This platform also enabled Ophthalmologists to prioritise more urgent referrals that require more timely treatment to reduce the likelihood of vision loss. In this study 14% of patients were reported as needing an urgent referral, and all were treated in less than four weeks. Furthermore, all referrals of wet age-related macular degeneration were correctly classified as urgent referrals. 

Dawn Sim, consultant ophthalmic surgeon and head of telemedicine at Moorfields Eye Hospital, said:

“This use of telemedicine comes at a time where hospital eye services in the UK face an increasing number of referrals driven by progress in retinal imaging. This platform reduces unnecessary ophthalmologist referrals within the NHS, which is critical as this can overburden the clinical service and increase the time for a patient to be seen and receive treatment.

“With the progress being made in using machine learning to provide a diagnosis from eye imaging, it may be possible for artificial intelligence to be integrated into this referral platform in the future.”

Dr Tom McKinnon, chief executive officer of Big Picture, said:

“We are very excited to partner with Moorfields Eye Hospital on this critically important initiative. Moorfields is a global leader in quality patient care and research, and we look forward to working with them as they lead the development of telemedicine and collaborative care models. Through our platform relationship, Big Picture will continue to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time for the lowest cost across the entire patient journey.”

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