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Nottingham University Hospitals’ new Research & Innovation website balances the demands of a highly regulated sector

Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) runs one of the biggest research programmes in the country, with 500 members of staff delivering some 700 clinical trials every year.

But, despite their vital work, until recently research teams had little presence on the Trust’s website. NUH Programme Manager, Rachel Webster, told the VerseOne Customer Day how Nottingham’s Research Communications unit remedied this.

More than 300 healthcare professionals are currently carrying out cutting-edge research at NUH – giving patients across the Midlands access to pioneering treatment, drugs and therapy.

Historically, however, the Research and Innovation unit’s digital footprint had failed to make the same impact.

During our recent virtual Customer Day, Rachel Webster explained why digital transformation became so important to the region’s clinical research community.

“Basically, we are trying to do two things, while we are a very big provider and manager of clinical research, the number of people who take part in clinical research trials in Nottingham is quite static.

“So that was a key thing for us: very simply to get more people to understand about research.

“And then the other big thing was that research staff can be from a number of different organisations, so it’s not just about talking to our own staff, we also need to communicate with research colleagues from elsewhere, too.”

To rectify this, Rachel and her team turned to VerseOne to help them develop a series of dedicated micro-sites, in a bid to boost both patient engagement and staff development.

So far, so good. But Nottingham’s ask wasn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds.

As well as providing easy access to engaging and informative content, the new sites had to incorporate conflicting research ‘brands’, cater for multiple audiences, and balance the demands of a highly regulated sector.

“Firstly, we made the decision that having research information as a core part of the Trust’s corporate website was a really important thing,” added Rachel.

“Not just because patients look at it, but also because we were fully aware that a lot of staff used the site as a source of information about research in Nottingham, particularly commercial sponsors.”

So, with VerseOne’s support, the team completed a radical redesign of the Trust’s public-facing research pages to deliver a frictionless, mobile-first experience which places accurate information at the fingertips of the UK’s leading research communities.

A microsite hosted by the Trust’s main CMS portal now features:

  • A vibrant and colourful landing page hosted by the CMS platform
  • A digital management system funnelling patients to participation in live research trials
  • Up-to-date and legally binding biographies on principal investigators/trial leaders, promoting the team’s world-leading expertise and a digital workplace
  • Detailed information on diverse research teams aimed at patients and integrated care partners alike
  • A dedicated research experience survey hosted by CMS software

The team then turned its attention to developing a staff-only site which could be used to store and access standard operating procedures (SOPs) alongside training records – boosting employee experience and internal communication.

“What we’d previously found from researchers was that we could publish all the SOPs they needed,” Rachel added, “but they were not clear when they had followed a policy, or which one came first.

“So, with VerseOne we started to work on a bespoke semi-automated process called Business Process Automator, which could sit behind the main website in a password-protected area for the staff who needed it.

“Instead of being faced with 87 different SOPs, they would be guided through the process they needed to follow, such as applying for a grant, how to set a research trial up, how to monitor that process, and how to report results.

“It’s early days, but the site is working well.”

We also joined forces with Rachel and colleagues to fast-track the publication of a third portal, ‘Research Futures’, a micro-site promoting the development of clinical research careers at the Trust.  

What’s more, while clinical research is usually a long-term endeavour – with trial results often taking years to collate, all the sites were delivered at pace to meet deadlines and demand from sponsors, staff and regulators alike.

Summing up the partnership, Rachel highlighted the difference intuitive communication channels and digital asset management are already making to Nottingham’s world-class researchers.

“The feedback we’ve got from staff and some of the stakeholders we’ve used along this journey is that they see we are investing in them as research professionals, as the design of our new digital platforms is starting to build trust and engagement.

“Three years ago, when I first started this journey, a lot of research staff felt they were the forgotten people, yet they were saving lives, just in a different way to frontline staff.

“To have something they can now call their own and use to talk to fellow research professionals – through the digital platforms and staff area we’ve developed – has really paid off.”