Alternative care plans for vulnerable patients whose regular hospital and GP check-ups have been disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic are the focus of a new project to be launched at the University of Aberdeen.
Patients at the highest clinical risk are among the 200,000 people in Scotland required to shield themselves to minimise their chances of being infected with Covid-19. They have been told to self-isolate, however many of those with multiple health problems need regular clinic appointments and hospital admissions.
Unless the NHS can find different ways to look after them, this strategy could make their underlying conditions worse.
There are around 20,000 people on the NHS Grampian Vulnerable Patient Shielding Register.
Thanks to £76,000 funding from the Scottish Government, the team from the University’s Centre for Health Data Science, which is a partnership with NHS Grampian, will use clinical data from vulnerable patients whose current treatment is being disrupted to find out what their needs are and to plan alternative ways of continuing their care.
After responding to the Scottish Government’s CSO Rapid Research in Covid-19 programme call for research projects that could help the national effort – the University of Aberdeen were awarded nearly £1 million in total to fund six projects.
By linking the NHS Grampian’s ‘shielding list’ with electronic records already held – the team will create a detailed record of vulnerable patients’ past healthcare use including: hospital and A&E admissions, outpatient visits, radiology and laboratory results, and prescribing.
They will also compare that data with data from various sources including the Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS 24, A&E admissions and others in order to build a picture of these patients’ healthcare utilisation during the pandemic.
This will allow the Aberdeen researchers to identify patients whose care pattern has changed substantially and those who have worsening health.
The results of the study will be rapidly released to the NHS to support and improve current planning and care for vulnerable patients.
Professor Corri Black, project leader and Director of the University of Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science, said: “Shielding the most vulnerable patients is of course essential, but we need to look closely at the impact this is having on them and the impact that it could have on the healthcare system down the line.
“There is an urgent need to design, monitor, and adapt clinical care pathways for vulnerable patients and careful monitoring and early intervention are key to reducing this risk. We will do this by working closely with NHS Grampian and sharing information with Scotland’s other health boards.”