Patients could face fewer appointments before having an operation under measures being considered in a bid to meet the next hospital waiting target.
From 2008, patients will be seen within 18 weeks
Ministers have set the NHS a goal of ensuring every patient is treated within 18 weeks of GP referral by 2008.
Eight areas have been asked to pioneer new ways of handling patients to ensure the NHS hits the target.
Officials said it will mean a redesign of the "patient pathway", possibly leading to less meetings with medics.
Many patients face multiple meetings with GPs, doctors and nurses before they have surgery at the moment.
For example, a patient being referred for orthopaedic surgery may see a GP and then a hospital consultant who could refer the person for x-rays.
The x-rays are then done, followed by another meeting with the consultant. The patient would then have to have a pre-assessment meeting with a nurse before finally going under the knife.
Details of the new scheme are yet to be finalised, but it may include meetings which are attended by more than one health professional.
Another suggestion is to schedule consultations in quick succession.
Matthew Kershaw, director of operations at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, one of the pioneer sites, said: "This is probably the most ambitious target the government has set.
"I am confident the NHS will meet it, but it will not be a case of more of the same. We need to look at new ways of doing things.
"It may mean seeing people together in one consultation or having them done all within a week. We need to see how this can be achieved."
The pioneer sites - involving hospitals and health bosses in East Kent, Gateshead, Huntingdonshire, south London, north Nottinghamshire, Oldham, Devon and Exeter and south Bedfordshire - have been given until the summer to report back on their proposals.
The 18-week target, to be achieved by December 2008, is considered the toughest the government has set the NHS.
Previous hospital waiting targets, which have been met, have only been measured from diagnosis, meaning many patients have faced long waits for MRI scans and similar diagnostic tests.
Health Minister Rosie Winterton described the challenge as an "historic change to the way in which the NHS tackles waiting lists".
"The NHS has already cut the maximum wait for in-patient treatment to six months.
"Some said it couldn't be done and the NHS has proved them wrong.
"Now the NHS is stepping up to an even bigger challenge.
"It is ending hidden waiting lists for things like diagnostics procedures and ensuring the whole patient pathway is measured and managed as one."