As many who have passed through the Irish healthcare system will know, ease of access to consultants and specialists can often prove to be a lengthier process than is desirable. Recent research by the Mater Private, in association with Kantar Millward Brown, highlighted the desire of the Irish public to gain access to quick consultations, with 74 per cent of respondents saying ease of access to an appointment is a key factor when choosing what hospital to attend. An even higher 76 per cent of respondents stated that reputation of the doctor is crucial when deciding which hospital to attend.
In order to meet these desires of the Irish public, the Mater Private has introduced their Same Day Consultant Appointments service – the first of its kind in Ireland. The service gives patients the opportunity to see a specialist from most of the hospital’s departments, at both their Dublin and Cork campuses, within 24 hours.
Range of services
"Patients who call before midday will be offered an appointment that same day, while patients who call after midday will be offered an appointment the following day," says Dr Caroline Whelan, Mater Private chief operating officer. "The service covers everything from gynaecology, cardiology and urology to spine, orthopaedics, gastroenterology, general surgery and vascular."
One of the underpinning factors of the service is that it can be availed of not just by private healthcare patients, but also by those without their own private insurance. “The Mater Private has built its reputation on consistently delivering excellent outcomes of care and endeavours to exceed patients’ expectations in all their interactions with our services,” says Whelan. “Insured or uninsured patients can avail of the service. Patients merely pay the consultant’s fee and there is no additional fee for the same-day service. The hospital is fully supporting the access team.
“Almost half of Irish people have private health insurance, however we also have a growing cohort of patients who self fund; last year we had a significant number of patients who came to the hospital without private health insurance, but paid for the procedure. On the current hospital waiting lists, 450,000 people are waiting for a first appointment with a consultant. Our new same-day service gets them in to see a consultant as soon as possible, so they can get a diagnosis. The patient can then continue with their treatment plan either using their health insurance or on a self-pay basis.”
Dr Caroline Whelan, who was recently appointed chief operations officer of the Mater Private Group, previously worked for the Ministry of Health in Ontario and has combined her knowledge of the Canadian health system, with analysis of the US healthcare system, most specifically the Cleveland Clinic, to form the basis for the same-day consultant appointments format.
"The quality of Irish doctors and healthcare is one of the best in the world – once you get into the service," says Whelan. "We have fantastic nurses, physicians and surgeons. But what North America and particularly the Cleveland Clinic does really well is provide access. They have great customer service at the access point. I went to the Cleveland Clinic to see how they were providing their own same-day consultant appointment service and returned to Ireland to model our own service on that.
“Essentially we looked across all of our specialties, and our 250 consultants who run regular private clinics, and examined the clinic matrix – the days of the week where we already have clinics running – and then asked consultants to facilitate additional slots in their clinics. Where, for example, there weren’t cardiology clinics running we agreed to have consultants covering that day for the same-day appointments.”
Another element of getting quick and relevant access to hospital services that the Mater Private wanted to eliminate was slow access and cumbersome booking procedures.
“When someone rings now, we have a specially trained team to respond to queries on same-day consultant appointments. That team can pull up the clinic matrix for the entire hospital with every single consultant in the hospital, which means the patient can be told immediately when and with whom they can get a clinic slot. A patient simply has to make a phone call, give their details to the agent, provide a scanned copy of their GP referral letter, or read it over the phone so we can hear what the GP is looking for exactly. The agent will then slot the patient into the clinic matrix that day or the next day.”
Crucially, the structure of the system was developed with the contribution of consultants in order to work out how the system could be best managed.
“Consultants agree that access can be a problem,” says Whelan. “And they agree that this new service will not lengthen waiting lists in the public system – which is what many of them are trying to deal with – and will instead provide quicker access for patients across the board. Everyone agrees that access in both the public and private systems can be a problem, so the primary focus is to alleviate that.”
The system came into effect in April and has already seen a number of successful treatments take place over the last number of weeks.
“So far, we’ve already facilitated almost 40 same-day appointments,” says Whelan. “Two weeks ago a woman rang to get an appointment for her husband with a urologist. He came in to see one of our urologists – Mr Stephen Connolly, consultant urologist. He had an MRI scan done on the same day, which showed he had kidney cancer. We were then able to perform a robotic-assisted nephrectomy, which is a keyhole procedure where the tumor on the kidney is removed. Within 10 days of the same-day consultant appointment this man had his scan, his surgery and had gone home.”
Specialities currently on the schedule for same-day consultant appointments are:
ENT (including paediatric ENT)
Eye - laser
Eye - retinal rapid access