By using NEC Rego for all referrals, more than 220 dental practices across Shropshire and Staffordshire can route patients to the right care first time.
Improving referrals for practices and patients
Local Dental Networks ( LDNs) work with NHS England to improve patient care in dentistry. Led by local clinicians, the LDNs help to factor in the views of patients and dentists when new services are commissioned or existing ones changed.
The Shropshire and Staffordshire LDN is chaired by practicing dentist Dr Nadeem (Tony) Ahmed. As part of its annual planning process, they identified referrals as a key area for modernisation.
“Most of our referrals were being done on paper. This meant they could be delayed or lost in the post and there was no way to know if hospitals had even read them. It was hard for dentists to keep track and left patients waiting longer. We’d seen GPs move to electronic referrals and knew it could make a big difference in dentistry.”
Keen to automate as much of the process as possible, the LDN with the NHS England commissioners went out to tender for a digital referral system. With other possible solutions still requiring manual review, NEC Rego came out on top.
Using AI to support triage
Unlike triage centres, where people review referrals before sending them on, NEC Rego uses intelligent workflow and AI to help guide dentists to the right pathway in a fraction of the time. It’s easy to use interface with simple solutions to upload radiographs and images to support the referral, make the system very user friendly.
The digital dental referral service started with teeth extractions in 2017 then added other services like orthodontics and paediatrics. The most recent addition was for intermediate minor oral surgery (IMOS) referrals, which went live in January 2023, which means almost every service can now be referred through Rego.
“Each time we’ve added something new, we’ve spent some time tweaking the algorithms,” says Tony. “That way, we can ensure an accurate and timely referral process that works for all practices.” The Shropshire and Staffordshire LDN has also benefited from the growing community of Rego users across the Midlands, enabling them to share experiences and further shape best practice.
Full support during go-live
With hundreds of dental practices using a whole range of information systems, the NEC Rego team visited each one to train the staff and check the integrations were working perfectly. Tony said:
“NEC Rego is a great system and I was really impressed with the support we got from NEC too. They visited each practice so they could deliver a smooth go-live for everyone.”
Work is now focused on adding extra ‘tiers’ into the referral pathway to better match the needs of patients and further reduce incorrect referrals. For example, this includes making sure that more complex extractions get routed to hospitals. Should a patient’s condition worsen while a referral is already in place, specialists can also use Rego to send it on to the correct provider rather than sending it back to the dentist.
Rego also makes it easier to monitor referral patterns and outcomes. This provides valuable information for commissioners and policymakers trying to match service provision with demand.
“Our role is to improve oral health for everyone, and NEC Rego has transformed the referral process for practices and patients. A referral that might have taken weeks can now be done in minutes. The NEC team is great to work with too; they offer genuine solutions to any problems we face.”