Digital technology is key to supporting trusts adapt to the pressures presented by COVID-19. From remote working to staff communications, a range of digital innovations are being explored and implemented as part of the NHS’ response to the outbreak.
Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust expanded their digital health service to support care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital health service is a team of nurse assessors, clinicians and GPs, who provide support to care homes to help staff make informed decisions about their residents and prevent avoidable hospital admissions. Individuals and their carers, care home residents and staff, and the community rapid response teams, are able to contact the digital health service via Skype. Visits to patients’ homes or care homes continued where clinically necessary.
The digital health team stepped up their service to offer 24-hour support and provided senior clinical leadership to help care homes with difficult clinical decisions. They did a virtual round every day of all care homes, including gathering information about the prevalence of COVID-19, which was then used to direct support with infection control. The service usually runs between 7am and 10pm seven days a week and provides other services including urgent care GP triage, falls prevention and community response to 999 calls. The existing Safe steps app was expanded to include COVID-19 monitoring and was used by care homes to help identify patients requiring review and care interventions.
The pandemic created an environment with just one focus and no ambiguity around priorities. This provided an opportunity to make significant advancements in internal communications and engagement.
The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust communications and engagement team, with the support of a recently introduced cloud-based intranet, launched a daily news bulletin to update crews with fast-changing information. The team introduced daily editorial meetings to set the news agenda for the day and ensured tasks were rotated each week to build-in resilience for potential sickness absence.
At the same time, several new innovations were introduced including:
Accessible communications was at the forefront of our external messages and we made a commitment to adopt British Sign Language/subtitles on all external videos, which has been recognised by deaf and hard of hearing communities and groups in the North East.
In April, the NHS 111 service provided by North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust was selected from all national providers to run a pilot scheme for video consultation calls.
An initial two-week pilot was arranged and implemented quickly to help with the COVID-19 response. It included a sample of 45 patients and found significant benefits both for staff and patients.
Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust swiftly moved to a new virtual way of working during the pandemic, with the introduction of new technology for both staff and patients. Outpatient’s appointments moved to phone and virtual platforms where possible, including the introduction of the software Attend anywhere. Since April 88,030 outpatient appointments have been held virtually which normally would have been face to face, with 505 staff involved.
The trust listened to families every step of the way and honed the way appointments were working. Staff were also keen to understand whether this virtual approach was a route patients wanted to be used in ‘normal’ practice.
As well as informal feedback, a patient and staff survey focusing on non-face-to-face appointments was rolled out. This had 4,418 responses to the survey and over 9,500 separate comments, the feedback showed 80% of patients and 90% of staff said virtual appointments were beneficial. These findings have been relevant for many other adult and paediatric trusts across the country, therefore the value of the work and the research into the appointments has been much wider than Sheffield and South Yorkshire.
The O365 implementation team were approached by the respiratory team to help them deliver pulmonary rehabilitation training to their patients. They asked if we could support them in creating videos of their exercises and webinars of their presentations. We set up Teams live events to create these and edited them before publishing.
For the exercise videos, they wanted to be able to show two different angles (front and side) so we blended these videos together using iMovie. With the content created, the team then asked if there was a way they could reach out to their patients using Teams. The trust used the bookings application to create a link, which they then sent to them to send to their patients. They set up trial bookings so that each group could test logging on for the first time and to meet one another prior to the therapy starting. Both trials went very successfully.