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A year on: Mater Private’s same day consultant appointments

The success of the Mater Private’s same day appointment service is attributed not only to its consultants but also to the GPs who recommend it and the team running it, says Dr Caroline Whelan, chief operations officer

Dr Caroline Whelan, group chief operations officer at the Mater Private Healthcare Group and Mr Tom Moran, ENT and head and neck consultant at Mater Private Hospital.

Dr Caroline Whelan, group chief operations officer at the Mater Private Healthcare Group and Mr Tom Moran, ENT and head and neck consultant at Mater Private Hospital.

 

A year after its launch, the Mater Private Hospitals in Dublin and Cork are celebrating the success of their Same Day Consultant Appointment service, the only one of its kind in the State. The service offers patients unrivalled access to specialist consultants from across the two hospital’s departments on a same day basis.

Mr Tom Moran and Dr Caroline Whelan
Mr Tom Moran and Dr Caroline Whelan

“It has been a huge success, to a point where we are currently considering whether it is possible to extend the number of specialties offered,” says Dr Caroline Whelan, group chief operations officer at the Mater Private Healthcare Group.

Over the past 12 months the Same Day Consultant Appointment team has fielded almost 3,000 calls from the public. Some 700 people went on to book same day appointments at the Dublin or Cork sites with consultants across a range of 12 specialties.

These specialties include cardiology, breast surgery, ear nose and throat, general/colorectal, endocrinology and gastroenterology. They also include gynaecology, haematology, orthopaedic and respiratory, as well as spine, urology and vascular.

[Contact the Mater Private Same Day Consultant Appointment service on 1800 804 222, or email sameday@materprivate.ie]

“The specialities that are in most demand are very reflective of where there may be some stresses in the public services, such as in ENT (ear, nose and throat), urology, orthopaedics, spine, gynaecology and respiratory,” says Dr Whelan.

Patients who call before midday are given an appointment that day

“Once you get into the public health system the quality of clinicians you meet is excellent. The problem for some people can be on the access side.”

More than 300 consultants work at the Mater Private Hospitals in Dublin and Cork, more than at any other private hospital group in the State, making this service possible. The Mater Private’s Same Day service is run by a dedicated team of trained personnel who manage a complex and dynamic clinic matrix containing the work schedules of each consultant participating in the service, checking slots into which they can book patients.

“Patients who call before midday are given an appointment that day. We will also try to secure a same day appointment for people who call after midday, but we will guarantee them an appointment the next day,” she says.

Such promises are not made lightly. “If we say that, we have to deliver it, and we do this thanks to the incredible support we have received from our consultants, who have all been so flexible and so responsive in their willingness to provide this service.”

Prior to joining the Mater Private Group as its chief operating officer last year, Dr Whelan worked at the Ministry of Health in Ontario. She used her knowledge of the Canadian healthcare system, combined with her analysis of the US healthcare system, to devise the Same Day Consultant Appointment model, inspired particularly by the renowned Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, which she visited as part of her research.

GP LETTER

The Mater Private Hospitals in Dublin and Cork are the only Irish hospitals that offer this service, which is open to both insured and uninsured people. To access it you simply call a dedicated number (1800 804 222) or email sameday@materprivate.ie. You then fax or email in a copy of your GP’s letter.

“This is still required, simply so that our team can know exactly who it is you need to see,” says Dr Whelan. “For example, a pain in your tummy could mean either you need to see a colorectal specialist, a gastroenterologist or a gynaecologist. The team’s aim is to make sure everyone gets to see the right consultant as quickly as possible.”

The relief of being able to secure access to a consultant can be enormous for patients, even if it is simply for reassurance

Part of the success of the service’s first year is attributable to the support the system has received from general practitioners too. “They have been great supporters of the service from the start,” she says.

REASSURANCE

The relief of being able to secure access to a consultant can be enormous for patients, even if it is simply for reassurance, with no further treatment required. Where further treatment is required, this too can be facilitated more speedily.

“Only two weeks ago we had a patient whose hernia operation had been cancelled in another hospital. He had already booked the time off work and would have found it hard to rearrange. He rang our team, had the same day consultant appointment, had his procedure four days later and was back at work within his original time frame,” she says.

A consultant’s appointment at the Mater Private ranges from €150 to €250, depending on the consultant. There is no additional charge for using the same day service and all its consultants are on the Medical Council’s specialist medical register.

We have a steady cohort of people without insurance who opt to pay

There is no obligation on any patient to go any further than the consultant appointment. “You might just need reassurance,” she says. “Our team will check your insurance cover for you when you call,” she says. “We also have a steady cohort of people without insurance who opt to pay for the procedure at the Mater Private Hospital themselves.”

Not alone might this help them avoid a public system waiting list but it also comes with the reassurance of a fixed price. “Sometimes people worry that if something happens and their stay is longer than expected that they will be hit with additional costs. We operate on the basis of a guaranteed self-pay price. That means we give you a price at the outset, whether for a hernia operation or a hip replacement, and that’s what you pay.”

She attributes the initiative’s success over its first year not just to the goodwill shown it by the Mater Private’s team of consultants, or to the GPs who recommend their patients use it, but very much to the team running it too.

“Their entire focus is on the patient, on minding them, on following up with them until they are satisfied,” she says. “It has been wonderful to have seen something that is international best practice in another country, bring it home and see it develop so well here.”


You can contact the Mater Private Same Day Consultant Appointment service on 1800 804 222, or email sameday@materprivate.ie