Photos and Skype may be used to cut NHS appointments

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HEALTH chiefs are considering allowing patients to emulate popular TV show Embarrassing Bodies by taking photos of their ailments in a bid to reduce the strain on stretched outpatient departments.

Work is under way on an ambitious rethink of services at NHS Lothian as bosses hope to use technology to reduce the number of patients needing to come in for check-ups.

The health board has identified areas such as ophthalmology and dermatology to test this project, as patients often have to return for frequent check-ups.

A patient could speak to a doctor via Skype to discuss a rash, while someone recovering from cataract surgery could take a selfie so the consultant could check their eyes.

Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “Technology is moving on, capability is moving on. So there is a requirement for us to look at outpatients in a different way.

“Could we use iPhone technology, for example, to start taking some of these results, these metrics, and link them into a central resource so that the consultant can just flick up the details on his computer?

“Therefore the doctor can make a decision rather than you automatically being asked to come in.”

Mr Crombie, who has been charged with slashing waiting times for operations and outpatient care, led a session at Ratho with the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian’s clinical teams to come up with ideas they hope to be able to make public within two years.

He said there would need to be a “cultural shift” as patients and doctors adjusted to less contact. He said: “You can’t get away from the fact that that reassurance is important. As long as people feel comfortable that they still have access, and a specialist has had a look at those results and is saying you don’t have to do anything, then I think there are opportunities there.”

Concerns have been raised that the reduction in patient contact might be dangerous, as complex ailments might be missed.

Dr Jean Turner, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “There is nothing to beat actually seeing a doctor and I think there are dangers when you are only taking pictures of something.

“If you want to feel secure and sleep soundly at night, as a clinician, then you need to see someone face to face. It is the only way to be sure things haven’t been missed.

“This all sounds good but I am concerned about what it might mean for patients.”

NHS Highland piloted a scheme in 2013 in which smartphone technology was used to help patients with Crohn’s disease, so specialist nurses could keep track of people using a mobile phone app.

The pilot was such a success that a new gastroenterologist and specialist nurse have been recruited to help deliver it across the Highland region.