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The COVID-19 pandemic presented the NHS with a unique set of challenges which, although immensely disruptive, has also enabled a speed of adaption, adoption and transformation that has never previously been possible. It is essential that the positive changes emerging from the COVID-19 crisis are embedded into routine practice and that services are developed to be sustainable and resilient to future pandemics. To facilitate this, the British Cardiovascular Society set up a Future of Cardiology Working Group with the brief of capturing service developments precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis that could be adopted across the NHS in a new model of cardiovascular care and outline what areas should be developed further in the future. This article aimed to highlight some of the key recommendations of The Future of Cardiology report,1 and box 1 lists the principles of service delivery underlying these. It should be noted that many of the changes that have been put in place during the pandemic, and which the Future of Cardiology Working Group seeks to promote, already featured as recommendations in the Topol Review2 on equipping the NHS for the digital future and in the NHS Long Term Plan.3
Principles of service delivery
Cardiology services should be delivered on the basis of networks or systems of care that are fully and seamlessly integrated from community to tertiary care.
Systems of care should be designed with a patient-centric approach with an emphasis on the use of technology to facilitate diagnostics, monitoring and communication at all levels.
Systems of care should be value-based, outcome-focused learning organisations. No patient should be disadvantaged and the inequality gap should be narrowed and not widened.
Primary/community care identification, coding and surveillance of cardiovascular patients should be standardised and improved.
Virtual consultation should become the norm in both primary and secondary care for those who do not require a face-to-face attendance.
Patient visits to hospital should occur only when necessary for patient care and should occur at the right time in the right environment with the right people present.
As a default, diagnostics should be delivered in an integrated community diagnostic hub run by secondary care in partnership with the primary care network and by staff rotating through secondary and/or tertiary care.
All patient pathways should be streamlined and agile to avoid duplicate investigations and referrals and shouldtake into account patients with multiple comorbidities.
The system needs to be resilient to further outbreaks of COVID-19 or other threats, and access to all services needs to be protected.
Virtual clinics, started by necessity during COVID-19, should continue and be a mainstay of the redesign of cardiology outpatients. Physical attendance at clinics should be minimised without compromising either quality of care or patient experience. Phone clinics are technically less complex than video-based clinics and may be suitable for patients who are less able or comfortable with use of technology, but video consultations offer the advantage of mutual visualisation for patient and clinician, the use of images in explanations and potentially the recording of consent. They also facilitate the participation of family members or other patient advocates and open the possibility of multidisciplinary consultations without the need for all clinicians to physically be in the same location.
For a number of patients, there will still be the need to have a face-to-face consultation, for example, to facilitate clinical examination. When this is required, clinics should be conducted in an environment that minimises the possibility of infection transmission.
Device clinics being undertaken by remote follow-up should become the default to minimise the requirement for travel and face-to-face attendance.
Referrals from primary care
In many areas, there is a lack of a ready means for primary care clinicians to contact secondary care for advice about patients, and as a result, referral for an outpatient appointment has become the default. Many problems could be dealt with via ‘advice and guidance’ or by similar mechanisms of direct virtual contact between primary and secondary care without the need for an appointment. Potential interactions between primary and secondary care are summarised in figure 1. All referrals to a cardiology service should be made electronically through a single-triage portal informed by agreed local protocols. Where investigations are requested directly from primary care as part of these pathways, results should be accompanied by a clinically relevant report that provides advice on further management. All referrals should be triaged and allocated to a pathway with care wrapped around the needs of the individual patient. Outcomes from triaging may include advice back to primary care, investigations, virtual clinic or face-to-face clinic.
Networks/systems of care and community diagnostic hubs
Some trusts have managed to place a proportion of their diagnostic capability within the community pre-COVID-19, but the drive to provide off-site cardiac physiology investigations during the pandemic has accelerated the development of community diagnostic hubs. These should be geographically convenient for patients, facilitate integration across primary and secondary care and, by being remote to acute hospitals, should increase resilience to both second peaks of COVID-19 and new threats.
Acute trusts will need to further develop collaborative working so that facilities, including catheter labs and imaging scanners, are fully used across a region and can remain operational during future crises. This may require redistribution or consolidation of activity across sites. There is a strong case for ‘passporting’, such that clinical staff are able to work freely across secondary/tertiary care, as well as in community diagnostic hubs.
Availability of records
Lack of access to records and investigations from other hospitals and from primary care is a frequent source of delay in patient management and treatment errors. Availability of all patient data, including premorbid state, advanced care plans, medication, ECGs, ambulatory recordings and imaging, is an essential part of a comprehensive electronic record and will greatly facilitate management of patients across institutions.
Integrated prescribing with primary care
Many patients who have outpatient consultations have recommendations for alteration of medication. Redesign of outpatient services allow opportunities for more integrated electronic prescribing with primary care. While non-urgent prescription changes can still be achieved via electronic communication with primary care, urgent prescriptions may need to be addressed by hospital-based electronic prescribing linked to home delivery of dispensed medication or integration with primary care systems.
Virtual multidisciplinary teams (MDTs)
Virtual MDTs have become common in the wake of COVID-19 and should become the norm, both as a means of ensuring that patients can be discussed in a timely manner and to enable the participation of referring clinicians. Where relevant, they also allow the involvement of primary care and of multiple specialities, even if not colocated.
Interhospital referrals are frequently required but can be time-consuming and may be performed on an informal and ad hoc basis with no robust audit trail. Moving forward, electronic systems that enable structured referrals and ensure accountability should be adopted.
Cardiology education has been transformed by COVID-19. The principal scientific meetings have been cancelled or postponed, and in their place, a multitude of initiatives have been developed. One positive example is the programme of webcasts on BJCA.tv produced initially by London deanery trainees. National meetings are also being hosted on virtual platforms with interactive sessions. Web-based education is more economical, more accessible and more equitable than attendance at fixed meetings. This should be embraced going forward, alongside physical meetings when conditions allow, enabling simulation and networking.
The move to online education also provides opportunities for patient education. This could take the form of a programme of national education webinars provided jointly by patient organisations and medical societies. Many patient organisations have already developed virtual patient education events and online materials. Patients and carers could be provided with an electronic suite of information on diagnosis or discharge to facilitate compliance with medication and lifestyle alterations, including in future relevant apps.
Traditional cardiac rehabilitation has been severely curtailed by the pandemic. This has led to the rapid development of home-based rehabilitation facilitated by the use of social media, smartphone apps and wearable activity trackers which have potential in a non-pandemic environment.
In conclusion, cardiology, like other specialties, needs to assimilate and act on the lessons learnt during the pandemic. This will require a restructuring of the way that we all work and deliver clinical services. While many of these changes do not in themselves come with a substantial cost, they will not be achieved without a substantial investment in information technology infrastructure and diagnostic capacity, and the NHS will also need to recognise that clinical staff will in future need to organise their time in different ways and must build this into job planning and contract discussions.
Correction notice This article has been corrected since it was published Online First. The on behalf of statement was corrected.
Contributors SH produced this summary based on the working groups paper, to which she and all the listed members of the working group contributed. This summary has been agreed by the working group’s members and is therefore submitted by SH on behalf of the working group - Tootie Bueser, Sarah Clarke, Paul Kalra, Alan Keys, Trudie Lobban, Nick Linker, Nav Masani, Keith Pearce, Chris Plummer, Simon Ray, Iain Simpson, Alistair Slade and Raj Thakkar
Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient and public involvement A patient representative was an active member of the working group.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
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