Under the system, a patient can sit with their GP or primary care professional and make an initial hospital or clinic outpatient appointment using a computer before they even leave the surgery.
If the patient wants, they can have time to make a decision and book their appointment later by phone or on the internet using a booking reference number.
The software used for Choose and Book also allows nurses and doctors to track referrals more easily and have email discussions about cases if necessary. In theory, it also speeds up the whole process by cutting out the need for paper correspondence and gives more consistent, accurate and efficient referral information.
Choose and Book is part of the government’s National Programme for Information Technology (IT) in the NHS, launched in April 2002 to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health service.
The programme, four years into its 10-year plan, plans to change the way the NHS uses information to improve patient care services and aims to connect more than 30,000 GPs in England to more than 300 hospitals and give patients access to their personal health and care information.
By the end of 2005 around 3,300 bookings were being made every week using Choose and Book and it is estimated an average of 190,000 bookings will be made weekly when the system is fully operational.
Choose and Book is, however, a year behind schedule, and by March 2006 only 3,700 of England’s 9,000 GP practices were able to book appointments electronically. Despite this, the government believes it will cover 90% of GP practices by March 2007. Some doctors have been reluctant to adopt the system and fear it will be time consuming.
Choose and Book came into force for elective surgery in January 2006.
In June 2006 the government announced patient choice in this area would be expanded so that patients would not only have the choice of four hospitals local to them for elective surgery (including one in the independent sector), but they could also choose from all 40 foundation trusts in England and 15 independent sector treatment centres.
Once it is fully operational by 2008, patients should be able to choose from any hospital or provider that meets NHS standards and costs.
The system is part of the Department of Health’s drive to improve patient choice, give people the power to make decisions about their health and care, and make the NHS more convenient.
Updated: September 2006