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July 2019

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Eastern Health allied health clinical research office’s Professor Prof Nick Taylor Katherine Harding and research officer Annie Lewis.

Patient wait times cut

A joint trial has cut waiting times for thousands of outpatients.

The Specific Timely Appointment for Triage (STAT) project is a partnership between La Trobe University, Eastern Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Eight community health clinics slashed waiting times using the STAT model of patient care.

The clinics offered physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech pathology to people with a wide range of health problems, including movement disorders, incontinence and speech problems.

La Trobe and Eastern Health researcher Katherine Harding said the clinics saw more than 3,000 patients during the two-year trial, which resulted in a 34 per cent reduction in waiting times across the board.

‘The STAT model analyses demand and protects the space required to see new patients in clinician schedules,’ Dr Harding said.

‘Instead of waiting for an appointment to become available when another patient was discharged, new patients, who were part of the STAT trial, were directly booked into the first available appointment for assessment and then prioritised for further management according to need.

‘Before STAT, patients waited an average 42 days for a first appointment.

‘This dropped to 24 days during the trial.’

Dr Harding said low-priority patients seemed to benefit the most from the STAT model.

‘These are patients who are continually pushed down the list by higher priority cases.

‘By getting an earlier appointment, they can be treated more quickly and discharged sooner, making room for new patients.’

The research study, published in BMC Medicine, found STAT required a small budget but, once it was up and running, was cost effective.

‘Excessive waiting times can be a problem for both patients and health services and previous strategies have often been ineffective,’ Dr Harding said.

‘We have shown that STAT is a feasible way to reduce waiting times across a broad range of community outpatient services, resulting in improved patient flow and access to health services.

Dr Harding recently received a prestigious translating research into practice (TRIP) fellowship from the medical research future fund (MRFF) to do further work on translating the STAT model into practice for paediatric services.

The team, collaborating with Box Hill neurologist Dr Patrick Carney, has received funding from the Eastern Health Foundation to find out if the STAT model can be applied to medical specialist clinics.

The team has held eight workshops at Eastern Health, Ballarat, Wangaratta, Peninsula Health, Monash and a paediatric-specific session at Maroondah.

About 250 people from 50 health services or organisations from all over Victoria have been involved.