Improving digital services in health care

As I awaited with eager anticipation for the second day of the Digital Health and Care Conference in Edinburgh to see digital innovation and progression in the Scottish Health Sector, a sobering thought from one of the speakers on the first day came to mind.

Whilst many retail and banking sectors have embraced complete digital transformation in their operating models, I’m sure you’ll agree that many areas of the health sector lag behind. Indeed, according to the Department of Health only 2% of current interactions are digital.

Person-centred interaction will always be at the heart of health and care, but that interaction can be better informed, more efficient and better organised , if supported by data and technology? To clarify my point I wanted to provide some examples:

  • GP Referral to Treatment (RTT) – whilst we are progressing in providing information available to the patient, why is it still difficult to provide information to the citizen regarding all the critical points in their pathway? As a patient, the only information one currently obtains is by telephoning the appropriate Health Board, contacting your GP to get them to do it, or receiving one of the paper-based letters to tell you that you’re ready to be seen by the Consultant in XX weeks time.
  • Booking an appointment – online access to GP appointments is available, but if you’ve ever gone through the process with your GP practice (at least in Scotland) it is overly complex and convoluted. I consider myself to be IT literate, but this process doesn’t seem to have the most important person in mind – the citizen. In effect, this has made little impact on a citizen’s day-to-day experience with their practice and the business model within it.

At the risk of sounding obvious, these two examples – of which there are many more – cry out for a rethink of the way the citizen interacts with services. Do we ask how a user wants to interact with the RTT process? Well, here’s an example in point. One of my family members is going for a hip replacement sometime soon. I want to emphasise ‘soon’, as they don’t actually know when. I’m sure the medical speciality know, so why can’t we provide this information to the user who wants to know to be able to plan their life effectively? Indeed, can we take learning from other sectors e.g. retail where the user is able to track the progress of their product from purchase to receipt. Why can’t we make this possible for the above example…? And I’ve not even considered the potential financial savings.

How do you get into the hearts and minds of the citizen?

The challenge that most commercial organisations had when the digital revolution started was that they created brilliant online presences which nobody used. Picture technological tumbleweed… So, commercial organisations incentivised customers to use the online functionality by offering discounts, online-only tariffs, faster fulfilment, flexibility etc. But how does this transpose itself to health care?

Looking to our Nordic neighbours, Daniel Forslund, Commissioner for Innovation and eHealth, Stockholm County Council conveyed it so well during the conference. Digital has to become the new norm. However, in order to do so, we need to incentivise citizens to use these services. This means providing digital services that the public want to use, as  and when it becomes beneficial.

Using the GP appointments example above, citizens choosing to use digital services could be given preferential appointment times – i.e., most early session appointments could be reserved for online bookings, whilst still maintaining slots for other methods of booking later in the day. These early morning sessions could also be available to book using SMS facilities from the citizen’s mobile phone.

As many of the key speakers at the Conference mentioned, digital transformation doesn’t have to be difficult, but we have to focus on the value it brings to the citizen – what information do we expect, how do we want to interact, etc?

Using service redesign techniques with the focus on putting the citizen first will enable us to deliver transformational services. It’s been done in so many areas already, so why don’t we do more for our ‘Health Consumers’? Indeed, one of the delegates argued that it’s about applying good practice that already exists in other sectors and transforming its use to new areas. Whilst I agree partly with this, I don’t think a ‘one size fits all approach’ can be taken – what happens when good practice doesn’t exist for a similar service? For me, and it sounds obvious, driving the input from service users is the key to transformational change in the way citizens interact with Health, designed by the user for the user.

Interested in hearing more about our approach to transforming customer journeys through service redesign? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

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