Leading the way on technology in health care

28 Mar 17

Scotland’s NHS 24 service puts a ‘digital first’ principle at the heart of everything it does

In the summer of 2016, NHS 24 received a call from the wife of a diabetic man who was sailing off the remote West Coast of Scotland.

He had dropped his insulin supply on board, broken the phial and urgently needed a replacement. His wife could only communicate with him via Facebook messenger, but NHS 24 arranged for insulin to be delivered to a local pub in the next harbour within an hour, so that he could collect it when he docked.

“I just had to thank NHS 24 for this fantastic response,” she said in a Facebook message. “You couldn’t get that service anywhere else in the world.”

This week’s CIPFA Scotland is looking at how public services can use digital innovations to get closer to citizens.

NHS 24 has been a trailblazer in technology-led healthcare. We have been delivering telephone triage services to patients for 15 years, and today can support patients contacting us in a range of ways including social media channels.

Although we are known primarily as a provider of out of hours care, NHS 24 has also been leading in the technology enabled care field for a number of years.

Take another example. A patient living in a remote part of highland Scotland had Huntingdon’s Disease and was losing her speech. NHS 24, working with NHS Highland, facilitated a video consultation service which enabled a speech therapist to deliver care and support to the patient directly in her home. Not only did this save the patient 300 miles of travel per week, it also helped her to retain her ability to communicate with her family for longer. The video below outlines the patient experience:

Our new five-year strategy has ‘digital first’ at its very heart. NHS 24 receives more than 1.5 million calls to its unscheduled care service every year and 3 million online contacts. As well as using messaging to manage demand into this busy service, we have also started to use social media channels to reach out to patients and manage expectations at peak times.

In the realm of digital delivery , NHS 24 has become a health sector leader in Scotland, providing access to trusted information and support through a range of different services including:

  • NHS inform
  • Breathing Space
  • Living Life
  • Care Information Scotland
  • National Smokeline Service.

People can get the help they need via a range of different delivery channels such as the internet, using webchat and over the telephone.

These services help people manage their health and wellbeing with tools such as Info for Me which allows visitors to the NHS inform website to save, share or print the information that is relevant to them to support their health or manage a long-term condition using an 'amazon-style' approach.

NHS inform also hosts a self help guide to help manage symptoms and a national services directory to signpost other relevant services. Since the self help guide was redesigned in line with the most common illnesses dealt with by the telephone services in November last year, it has been used more than 70,000 times and can support people to manage their symptoms, or signpost to another relevant healthcare provider, such as a pharmacy, thereby reducing pressure on other parts of the NHS. 

All of the digital resources have been developed in partnership with the public and other relevant groups. User insights are gathered using a range of tools, techniques and digital channels to ensure that services are responding to the needs of the public and are co-produced using public and professional engagement.

Digital first will remain at the very heart of NHS 24’s health and care offering as we move ahead.

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