10 Things We Learned From Think Big Act Now 2021
Last year alongside Centric Health Media, we had the pleasure of meeting with 12 passionate and inspiring professionals within the healthcare industry who are as dedicated as we are to diminishing the NHS backlog through the use of digital innovation. Throughout this series of thought provoking conversations, we discovered valuable insights into what could be causing further problems within our healthcare system, and more importantly, what can be done to tackle these challenges. You can find the recordings and transcripts of all of these sessions here or by clicking the button below.
The aim of these conversations was to leave viewers with one or more takeaway actions that can be put into practice, promptly and efficiently, and cause positive change within our NHS. We have collated the top 10 lessons that we have learnt from these valuable sessions.
1 - Digital Innovation is crucial to fixing the NHS backlog.
Something that was made clear in all of our conversations with these professionals is that technology within the NHS has been in need of innovation for a long time, even before the events over the past few years. As Adel Jones from Torbay and South Devon NHS quoted:
“I can live a full life because my life is enabled by digital technologies. And then I come to work and the NHS has been around for 75 years and it's stayed the same”.
It is understood that innovation is crucial for the longevity of the NHS, and the majority of this is going to come from the modern-day technologies that we are seeing applied to all other industries around us. Key speakers from these discussions such as Steve Haken, Odelle Technology, noted that there has been a large uptake in technology being implemented into healthcare provider services all over the world since the outbreak of the pandemic, and those that have utilised this best have seen incredible results almost immediately.
2 - The need for virtual appointments has grown massively since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Coronavirus pandemic has affected our national health services more than anyone would have expected. Pete Beaumonet from UK VitalHub commented on this in one of our discussions:
“With COVID obviously we've seen a massive growth in virtual appointments”.
With staff and resource shortages, an overwhelming amount of patients, and the ever-growing backlog, Covid forced the NHS to take fast action in order to be able to tackle this as soon as possible. One of the main outcomes of this was the massive growth in virtual appointments. Near the beginning of the pandemic, NHS clinical teams found the amount of virtual appointments they were holding rise by 100% within the first 16 weeks of measuring.
This was not only to ensure the safety of staff and patients by greatly reducing the amount of face to face exposure, but also it allowed NHS clinicians and nurses to see more patients daily, with reduced appointment times and a drop in unnecessary appointments, as patients were required to seek advice from home, and could use many online resources. Unnecessary appointments were also greatly reduced due to the fact that reception and admin staff reported feeling less pressured to schedule these appointments in, as they now have the knowledge and confidence to direct patients more appropriately.
3 - Clinical teams can’t afford to spend a long time waiting for something to be set up or arranged - they need something that can be set up quickly.
With the NHS already under so much strain, there is a general consensus amongst clinical teams that digital transformation can be a slight risk to take - as the chances of something going wrong or delaying the process could be extremely damaging to an already struggling department. This came up across many of our conversations with healthcare professionals, especially those working with the NHS. Lisa Riley from UK VitalHub said:
“How valuable time is - you cannot afford to waste it with poor processes, delays, patients spending time and department, you know, it has to be quick - that clock is there”.
However, the solution that was discussed to this lack of trust in today’s technology is to present something that is quick and efficient to set up. That doesn’t require someone with advanced IT skills or a long waiting time to be made ready for use. By ensuring this when committing to digital transformation, the risk of further damage to the backlog is greatly dampened, as a lesser amount of time is spent setting up the technology, and therefore a lesser amount of time is needed to ‘fix’ or change anything where required.
4 - Digital transformation needs to be kept as simple and efficient as possible, for both clinical teams and patients’ sake.
Leading on from the last takeaway, healthcare professionals are already often reluctant to implement digital innovation into their practices, as not only is there a risk that comes along with it, but it is often not clear how simple or easy this will be to achieve. With such a large amount of strain already placed on NHS staff due to the backlog and shortages, it is clear that adding the further tasks of learning how to use new technologies would be extremely difficult to justify. This is why ensuring that digital transformation is kept as clear, simple, and efficient as possible is so important.
There is also the patient’s end to consider. Many patients will be used to seeing their clinical teams face to face, and may have very little to no experience with technology. So asking these people to quickly adjust to something that they have no knowledge or experience with could be catastrophic to keeping a clear and easy line of communication with patients. As Adel Jones put it:
“Let's be brave and harness the potential of the technologies that are out there, but let's do it with our local people so that they feel safe and come with us”.
5 - Patients want control of their own care.
This is another point that came up across most of our conversations with these key speakers and professionals from the healthcare industry. Adel Jones from Torbay and South Devon NHS said the following:
“They told us they wanted to control their own care. They wanted to have their records on their phone”.
Patients want to be kept informed and up-to-date with their healthcare practices. With 84% of UK adults* owning a smartphone, many have made it clear that they want to be able to access their patient records easily from their mobile devices, especially with the number of face to face appointments continuing to reduce, and virtual treatment becoming more popular due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The vital thing to know about this point is that it can be easily achieved. Many of our key speakers noted that they have witnessed this digital transformation begin to be implemented in trusts across the country, allowing patients to view their records, order repeat prescriptions, and even cook virtual appointments from the comfort of their own home using a computer or handheld device. This has been crucial to the advancement of our national health service over the past few years, with quick thinking and adaptation having to occur as soon as possible. This can be life-changing to patients who struggle to make phone calls or travel to see a clinician face-to-face.
6 - Digital health technology allows clinical teams to manage more patients within a shorter amount of time.
One of the biggest ways that digital health technology is helping to fix the NHS backlog is by allowing clinical teams to treat more patients within a shorter amount of time. Dr Andrew Jones from Amazon Web Services said the following in our discussion:
“One of the things about being a doctor is you have a scale of one, you can only see one patient at a time, do one operation at a time.”
The use of digital health technology allows staff to improve this situation. Virtual appointments take a significantly shorter amount of time to prepare for and carry out, and therefore allows clinical staff to fit more patients into their day, whilst still ensuring they receive the same high-quality level of care as before.
There is also the reduction of paper-based systems alongside this, saving time as staff can simply and quickly search for any records or information they need to know for their appointments with patients, rather than sifting through paper files and records. It’s the small changes like this that add up to making the big difference.
7 - Virtual appointments put patients at ease, being treated from the comfort of their own homes.
This has been a huge part of feedback received from patients who have experienced more face-to-face appointments since the beginning of the pandemic. Clinical staff have seen first hand the reduction in stress and anxiety in patients from them not needing to worry about travel arrangements or waiting rooms, and instead being able to speak to a clinician from the comfort of their home with the support of their loved ones by their side.
The pandemic has caused a large increase in anxiety and stress in people all over the world, and those who were already struggling to make it into appointments may find it close to impossible since the outbreak, with those who are newly experiencing these problems important to keep in mind too.
Steven Haken from Odelle Technology noted the following:
"[Clinicians] want to treat people inside their homes. That's where they live. That's where their health is, their family, the people they love, the things that they enjoy doing."
This relaxation or relief from the patients can also make it much easier for clinicians to get the relevant information they need from the patient, as they are further at ease and less worried about feeling uncomfortable.
8 - The technology we need to solve the backlog exists today.
As previously mentioned, many of our key speakers noted that healthcare services all over the world have implemented digital transformation into their systems and seen extremely beneficial results. The problem is not that we can’t access the technology. Our conversation with Lisa and Pete from the UK Group of VitalHub touched on this further, with Pete noting that the NHS do need to kind of not try to build everything themselves when it already exists. This seems to be a common misunderstanding amongst our national health service - that digital innovation would take a long time and a large amount of resources as it would need to be built from scratch. However this is far from the truth. With there being many people and brands nationally that commit themselves to providing technology-based solutions that could become the catalyst for positive change within the NHS. The technology is out there, waiting to be utilised for digital transformation.
9 - Unnecessary regular appointments are causing further strain on the NHS, and can be resolved quickly using technology.
The large number of unnecessary appointments has been one of the leading contributors to the NHS backlog, long before the Covid pandemic. With most people who have one or more chronic illnesses requiring regular appointments regardless of how they feel, and many people overusing resources that could be found online, many appointments that NHS staff attend could either be carried out remotely, reducing the amount of time taken to complete the appointment, or disregarded completely if not required. Torbay and South Devon have seen a drastic change to the number of unnecessary appointments after implementing CONNECTPlus into their hospitals and departments, as many patients were able to find the information they would normally ask NHS staff for on their mobile device. Adel Jones confirmed this in our discussion, saying:
“I think [CONNECTPlus] offers us a huge opportunity to enable people who have a long-term condition or multiple long-term conditions to really manage their own care in their own homes and be the experts to have all the information and the advice and the videos and everything at their fingertips, so that they can manage their own condition”.
The reduction of unnecessary appointments will be a large step in the process of fixing the NHS backlog, and it has continuously been proven that digital transformation is the most effective way of achieving this.
10 - Now, more than ever, is the time for change within the NHS.
The events over the past few years have proven to us that our national health service is in dire need of adaptation, largely through the implementation of digital transformation. It was made clear through our in-depth conversations with all of our key-speakers and healthcare professionals that the pandemic broke a barrier for the NHS. There is now considerably less uncertainty and fear, with the need for change becoming urgent and immediate. NHS staff have been forced to learn how to adapt with the rapid involvement of technology whilst also dealing with an increase in workload and stress, which if anything has just proven the strength and determination of our NHS teams. As well as this, it has proven to us that digital implementation is necessary to keeping our health services afloat in modern times, and that it is not as impossible as it may have once seemed.