It is widely accepted that patient engagement is an important focus for our NHS. It is critical to achieve better health outcomes for patients. Studies suggest that patients who are well-informed, educated about their condition, and involved in their healthcare decisions not only have greater satisfaction of care, but also have better outcomes. The benefits lead to healthier lifestyle habits and adherence to treatment plans. Patients who are active participants in their own health care have fewer unplanned hospital readmissions, medical errors, and delays in care.
COVID-19 has shown the importance of NHS services being able to engage patients remotely, but has also highlighted the inadequacies of some virtual channels for engaging patients, including:
- Misinformation and confusing guidance.
- Patients being directed to different government websites, which are often difficult to navigate, and sometimes have conflicting information.
- 111 call centres unable to cope to with the peaks in call volumes.
- Virtual channels are often inaccessible to elderly and vulnerable patients.
That said, the current trend for non-physical engagement is here to stay beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
An online survey posted between March and April targeted at healthcare professionals reported a change in routine hospital care to virtual communication. Diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and hypertension were the most impacted conditions due to reduction in access to care. 80% reported the mental health of their patients worsened during Coronavirus.
It is important routine care continues despite the pandemic, to avoid a rise in non-COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality. But with the uncertainty of identifying regional spikes and lockdowns being implemented, the ability for local health systems to plan and respond to routine care will lead to more unpredictable peaks in health services when lockdowns are eased.
Digital technologies can help the NHS in how to deal with this unpredictable pent up demand. Some solutions include:
- Virtual Data Assistants – A chatbot that patients use to ask questions about NHS information. In Scotland, NHS 24 launched a chatbot to give the public accurate and up-to-date facts about Covid-19 as well as help and support them if they have symptoms or need specific services such as mental health support. The bot responded to more than 40,000 queries in its first 30 days, using clinically approved information from NHS Scotland.
- Patient-centric websites – A responsive website leads to a better user experience. Most modern health information websites, such as the NHS website, has a wealth of data. Information about local services, symptom checkers and living well suggestions. Users searching for information want to see what information is available and be able to explore the relevant publications quickly and easily.
The ability to analyse the patient experience and data they are searching for will support the NHS in having access to additional insights that will enable better care planning and anticipate regional peaks in routine care for chronic or mental health conditions.
- Virtual appointments – These allow for remote video consultations between clinician and patients. We have seen a significant increase in recent months in the use of virtual consultations for routine care appointments, as well as for counselling and mental health consultations. They have proved to be an effective medium for supporting independence and self-confidence among young people aged 12–18 years.
In a 15-minute virtual appointment once a week, nurses supported participating patients to improve their continence and self-care. Participants reported that they felt more confident talking about personal issues online rather than face-to-face. They also valued the privacy that online consultations allowed feeling more confident, speaking to a nurse on their own about personal concerns, without the need of a parent being present.
Converging Data and User Experience
At DMI, we believe that at the centre of every successful technology product is a converged data and user experience strategy. This means that data is captured, exposed, and leveraged where relevant to meet the patients’ needs. When user experience research and design is incorporated into technology, innovative ideas come to light. Understanding user needs and journeys at a more fundamental level allow for new opportunities and ideas to emerge.
If you would like to know how DMI can support your digital health patient engagement please contact the healthcare team at [email protected].
-Assad Tabet, senior client partner