COVID-19 has delivered the greatest challenge to the NHS since its post-war foundation.
Resources have been redeployed to help stretched services cope with the significant numbers of people left seriously ill by the pandemic, causing a huge backlog throughout non-Covid care.
But as challenging as the crisis has been for all of us, it has also acted as a catalyst for new and innovative ways of working within health and care organisations nationwide, with many turning to digital healthcare providers to help deliver – and improve – vital services.
Thanks to our own commitment to the sector, VerseOne was the natural choice for Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust when they sought an experienced and innovative partner to develop and launch Life Stories, a pioneering digital memory book which helps users capture and share photos, music, memories and more.
The therapeutic application is now being put to work within clinical settings to stimulate patients with varying degrees of dementia, but has also been designed with the general public in mind.
From older people to those with learning disabilities and children, remembering, recording and sharing tales of days gone by can boost both mental wellbeing and cognitive function.
Dr Natasha Lord, Lead Older Adults Mental Health Clinical Psychologist at HACW, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with VerseOne to finally realise this wonderful resource. Life Stories can be accessed easily, updated simply and you can send links and share your story with any nominated person.
“Life Stories helps people move from care home to hospital, and if we look at it in terms of community mental health too, people won’t fall between the gaps because it allows closer working, continuity, consistency of care, and quicker waiting times. Since its launch we have already started to see that happen.
“We are now really excited to see how other people will use it too, whether it’s for enhancing the lives of their families or collaborating on community projects.”
Keep an eye out for a more in-depth review of this new innovation which we will be publishing next month.
Other secondary care providers across the country have also adapted to the Covid-19 crisis by embracing cutting-edge technology, including Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (BTHFT).
Rooted within a deprived community which has been hard-hit by Covid, Bradford turned to telehealth platforms, virtual consultations, remote working, and digital appointment letters sent by text message as the pandemic progressed. A pioneering interactive digital roadmap – People First: Digital First – was even launched by the district’s integrated care service during the peak of the first wave in June 2020.
Bradford has since invested further in improving NHS and social care IT systems and, nearly a year on, the Covid-19 crisis has helped demonstrate that health services in the city possess the digital capability to support patients, parents and families in new and modern ways; providing faster, safer and more convenient care.
There is also much to learn from how the city’s hospital trust has transformed non-Covid care. During the pandemic it launched drive-through testing for cardiac patients, the digitally-enabled ACE service provided an alternative to hospital admission for children with common acute illnesses like croup and asthma, and its digitally-operated Command Centre – the first of its kind in Europe – transformed care by reducing waiting times and making the experience of being in hospital smoother, faster and more efficient.
But the Trust has no desire to stop there, with plans now being made to establish a digital transformation committee to incorporate staff from all specialties in its bid to drive further innovation.
Dr Mat Mathai, a Consultant Paediatrician at Bradford Teaching Hospitals, said the onset of Covid-19 had “moved digital healthcare from the periphery” of his work “to the mainstream”.
“In January 2020, digital healthcare hadn’t really taken off and people weren’t interested in virtual consultations. Three months later we were in full lockdown and within weeks of that the system had really started to move. People didn’t want to come to hospital or visit their GP, so the need for digital healthcare became prescient.
“The system has changed and the population has changed. Around 80 per cent of my consultations at the Trust during lockdown were virtual, and people are now used to accessing care that way. We are seeing more people face-to-face now as the lockdown eases, but I don’t think we will return to the way we were functioning before Covid.”
Virtual consultations reduce the spread of Covid-19 infection, but they are also much more convenient for patients. In the past many would have to take time out from busy days to travel to clinics, park and wait for their appointment. Now, consultations are carried out in patients’ sitting rooms and, as one Bradford-based consultant reported, even while doing the supermarket shop!
“Earlier this year we ran a survey among our paediatric families,” added Dr Mathai, “with 75 per cent of respondents stating that they had taken part in at least one virtual consultation and 80 per cent claiming they would be happy to do so again. Covid-19 has delivered a sea change in the way NHS healthcare is delivered.”
The pandemic has also helped accelerate the development of unified digital platforms which provide patients with easy access to key clinical information, and allow healthcare staff to find each other, collaborate, and deliver high-quality care thus increasing productivity and driving down costs.
Barts Health, an internationally renowned teaching hospital in the City of London, chose VerseOne to help develop and deliver mobile-first website and intranet solutions which place service users at their core and leverage the NHS Trust’s unique heritage.
Detailed stakeholder workshops were held with staff, patients and family members to gain a deep understanding of their needs and support the creation of a visual language that is not only engaging, but highly accessible and usable too.
This approach to user-centred design, combined with VerseOne’s unrivalled sector experience and unified technology has provided a solid foundation for further digital transformation initiatives at the historic Trust.
Since their launch all the platforms, which work hand-in-hand and are busting with functionality – including directories for easily finding services and blogging capability – have been an unqualified success, providing the historic trust with a fluid and scalable foundation for further digital transformation.
Megan Skinner, Deputy Director of Communications at Barts Health NHS Trust, said: “We run both our website and intranet through the VerseOne CMS. It offers flexibility and control over content and reduces work when publishing to multiple platforms. The upgrades that come with no extra cost are also welcome.”
VerseOne has also delivered market-leading digital experiences in partnership with Microsoft, one of the world’s leading technology companies.
Not only did our transformation experts rethink, redesign and relaunch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust’s (CPFT) website for patients and staff during the pandemic, placing video consultations to the fore, but the new system has also been future-proofed to ensure it can fully support emerging technologies.
And thanks to our partnership with Microsoft, the site is managed on the tech giant’s secure Azure cloud platform, too, providing multi-channel device delivery and freeing up the Trust’s IT team to focus on what they do best – delivering outstanding patient experiences.
CPFT’s new public platform was launched this spring to significant acclaim, so much so that the Trust has now also asked VerseOne to design and develop a single sign-on intranet. In order to accommodate the profound impact Covid-19 has had on healthcare delivery, the new intelligent work hub will integrate with Office 365 applications and remain accessible anywhere in the world from any device.
But wherever it’s located, telemedicine is not always tickety boo. Technology failures cause frustration on all sides, and consultations which need to address safeguarding or psychological issues are often made more difficult as clinicians struggle to pick up on body language and behavioural clues. Many doctors also dislike passing on life-changing or worrying news virtually.
Despite the drawbacks, however, digital healthcare is here to stay. According to a recent Deloitte report, an incredible 500,000 connected medical technologies are now available worldwide.
Other pioneering work taking place throughout the UK includes a digital healthcare programme for patients with long Covid delivered by app, the roll-out of joined-up electronic patient records which will further support the introduction of integrated care systems, and the creation of an NHS Digital guide which will help providers, commissioners and designers create their own digital healthcare products.
The need for such innovation was highlighted by the NHS Long Term Plan. But the pandemic has turned blue-sky thinking into concrete reality and ushered in a new digital age which is revolutionising the way health and care is delivered. Across the country, medical technologies are now democratising healthcare in ways Nye Bevan can only have dreamed of.
Guest blogger - Dan Webber