Homerton Hospital is set to roll out a new electronic check-in service, becoming the first London hospital to do so.

The new digital service has been launched in response to increasing pressures on the department.

Pilot sites testing out the system, involving 250,000 patient check-ins, saw waiting times could see waiting times reduced to a projected average of 5.4 minutes.

The target time set by the government for check-ins is 20 minutes, but many patients may find themselves in queues for one hour or longer.

Jean Lyon, senior nurse in the hospital’s emergency department said: “We believe this new approach to assessing walk-in patients will have a really positive effect on our ability to treat patients and further improve their experience inside A&E."

The new “queue-less” system will mean patients arriving at Homerton’s emergency department will be met by a bank of iPads.

The patient is then prompted to provide their details and answer questions about their illness or injury.

That information is then used to work out how sick a patient is, the next steps in their treatment and who to prioritise.

The system combines eConsult Health’s eTriage emergency triage platform with Cerner’s Millennium electronic patient record (EPR) system.

Dr Murray Ellender, eConsult CEO and practicing GP explained how digital check-ins help to streamline a patients journey through A&E.

He said: “We’re speeding patients’ journeys through the department, were not taking away the human contact.”

Ham & High: Patients at Homerton's A&E will be met with a bank of iPads where they will answer a series of questions on their conditionPatients at Homerton's A&E will be met with a bank of iPads where they will answer a series of questions on their condition (Image: eConsult Health)

Dr Murray says the new system is “bringing digital into a very digitalised process”.

He adds that pilots of the system showed “most patients were completely comfortable with this”.

“They are used to using these sorts of devices in other bits of their life,” he said.

“Clearly there is going to be some people for whom language is an issue or who are really not comfortable, but that’s fine – we have still got that reception option.”

“You have always got to leave that human option.”

A recent study conducted by eConsult revealed that nearly two thirds (64 per cent) of UK patients who visited A&E in the past 12 months would feel confident or somewhat confident using an electronic self-check in system to speed up the triage process, with just 12 per cent against the idea.

Digital check-ins may become more of a regular feature in GP surgeries as well in the future.

The pandemic has seen increasing strain being put on NHS services so digitalisation aims to ease pressure on staff while improving patient experiences as well as making them safer.

Mark Harmon, practicing A&E doctor and chief strategy officer at eConsult said: “There is currently unprecedented pressure on A&E departments who have been hit with a wave of post-lockdown walk-ins and have faced one of the busiest and toughest winters on record.

“Against this backdrop, we are proud to partner with the team at Homerton and our friends at Cerner to deliver a solution that will help support clinicians, hospital staff and patients through this challenging period and beyond."

The electronic system ensures that patients requiring urgent medical attention are immediately identified and flagged.

Ham & High: The new digital system will reduce waiting times to five minutesThe new digital system will reduce waiting times to five minutes (Image: eConsult Health)

This is particularly important for patients presenting at A&E with symptoms of a heart attack or sepsis for whom the "golden hour" can be the difference between life and death.

Dr Murray says Homerton’s pioneering launch of the system could make it a “trailblazer” for the rest of London.

He adds that it will also make it easier to identify and triage Covid patients.

Some hospitals outside of London have already launched the service such Worthing Hospital's emergency department in West Sussex.

Catherine Keegan, emergency department matron at Worthing Hospital, said: "It gives us a sense that we didn’t have before about how well or how sick everyone in the waiting room is. They’ve gone from an unknown to a known quantity."

The eTriage, or electronic check-in service, uses algorithm-based questions about symptoms and medical history, quickly identifying the sickest patients.

It categorises walk-ins into five different priority categories.

The system is expected to process 350 walk-in patients per day, with a projected average completion time of 5.4 minutes, based on data from over 250,000 patient journeys in A&E departments using eTriage.