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Environmental impact of Virtual Lucy

Background



Virtual Lucy is a clinician-led virtual patient assessment tool, which enables clinicians to diagnose patient conditions and signpost them to the appropriate treatment, clinic or to simply provide advice and guidance.


Virtual Lucy is currently deployed in MSK/orthopaedics and Dermatology with other specialities to follow soon.



Virtual Lucy Patient Introduction Video (Dermatology):




We are fully aware of the clinical efficiencies that Virtual Lucy offers but what about the environmental impact?



NHS - Carbon Net Zero target


The NHS has formally adopted two targets, set as the earliest possible credible dates for the NHS to achieve net zero emissions.


“For the NHS Carbon Footprint (emissions under NHS direct control), net zero by 2040, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2028-2032, and; for the NHS Carbon Footprint Plus, (which includes our wider supply chain), net zero by 2045, with an ambition for an interim 80% reduction by 2036-2039”



Dr Nick Watts, incoming NHS Chief Sustainability Officer, said: “The evidence that the climate emergency is a health emergency is overwhelming, with health professionals already needing to manage its symptoms.


We know that 98% of NHS staff believe the health system should be more environmentally sustainable, and even during the busiest period in NHS history, the insight, enthusiasm and commitment from those on the frontline for us to plan for the future has been exceptional.


The NHS’s ambition is world-leading, and the first national commitment to deliver a net zero health service. It comes at a time when the UK is preparing to host the UN climate change summit next year, and demonstrates that every part of our societies need to play their part in reducing pollution and responding to climate change.”



This got HBSUK thinking…. What can Virtual Lucy contribute towards this NHS goal?



Virtual Lucy – Dermatology – the carbon effect



Within Dermatology our own data supports the fact that

around 50% of dermatology referrals to hospitals through Virtual Lucy can successfully be triaged and returned to the community with a treatment plan or advice and guidance (A&G).

But what does this 50% reduction in routine 1st outpatient appointments look like in environmental terms?



The statistics



Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data from NHS Digital gives us the number of routine Dermatology 1st Outpatient appointments in England and national statistical bodies from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland completes the picture for the UK. We took the data from 2017-18 before Covid-19 emerged and changed the landscape.


The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) a research arm of the NHS produced a document calculating the time and travel costs of attending an outpatient appointment:



NHS Time and Travel Analysis
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Download • 797KB


Using data from this document, the outpatient numbers in dermatology and fuel consumption figures (RAC data), we estimated the impact on the carbon footprint of reducing the number of routine dermatology outpatient 1st appointments by 50% purely among car drivers – 75% of all outpatient attendees (NIHR) who drive on average 16.1 miles to attend their outpatient appointment.


We (very) conservatively estimated that in the UK,

if Virtual Lucy was deployed across the country, to virtually assess all routine dermatology referrals, the carbon footprint of the NHS would be reduced by at least 6,000 tonnes of CO2.

If all the car trips to the Dermatology outpatients clinics were made in diesel cars, this would equate to 114 fuel tankers per year (each carrying 35,000 litres of diesel); or 1482 around-the-world flights by Jumbo Jet! And this is just in routine Dermatology 1st appointments!


Add in all the other specialities where a Virtual Lucy assessment can be deployed and the environmental impact of Virtual Lucy in helping the NHS achieve its carbon neutral goals is very significant.


Cost reductions



The NIHR document also calculates the average cost to the patient of attending a hospital outpatient appointment vs a GP Surgery appointment taking into account travel and loss of earnings. They calculated that average cost to a patient of attending outpatients was £106.81 compared to £51.10 for a GP appointment.

Virtual Lucy would save patients (and their employers) around £50 million nationally in costs in routine Dermatology alone.


Conclusion


Although difficult to calculate exact figures (there are so many variables), our research shows that there are very significant green impacts in deploying Virtual Lucy to help the NHS achieve its net carbon zero target.







 

Virtual Lucy platform:


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