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August 18, 2017
By: Aimie Chapple

NHSmail users now Skype-enabled for joint, virtual, patient-centric consultations

I’ve often imagined the benefits of a patient’s entire care team: GP, specialist, nurse and social worker, discussing the best treatment via a single, secure NHS social media platform. Now the need for often-fragmented, in-person consultations with multiple caregivers is a thing of the past. While many NHS caregivers may not know it yet, all NHSmail users have already been enabled for Skype instant messaging. Once deployed, they simply need to use it.

You have probably heard the same anecdotes as I have – about healthcare professionals using private devices and public social media platforms to discuss cases informally. However, while recognising that this is often the quickest way to the most appropriate diagnosis, there are concerns about the privacy and security of these platforms, when sensitive patient data is discussed. Now there’s an opportunity to leverage NHSmail and Skype within the NHS, behind its firewall. In the future, additional tools enabling audio and graphic file sharing could also be added to the mix. In the end, the aim is convenient communication for all stakeholders, resulting in more efficient, intelligent care and better health outcomes. The big question I ask myself, and that all caregivers should be asking, is: “How would this change workflow?”

As I walk the corridors of the NHS, it strikes me that these social media capabilities are creating the ability to:

  • Consult and inform quickly and efficiently in case of an emergency, by using Skype rather than paging or calling someone.

  • Identify and access a specialist at short notice through using the NHSmail directory and the availability/status function on Skype.

  • Gather multi-disciplinary teams virtually to review all relevant diagnoses, medications and other material facts; ensuring that all care works are on the same page. This not only improves efficiency, but greatly enhances both patient safety, and the care experience, since all relevant parties are able to collaboratively review information and make faster, joined up, clinical decisions about the next steps for the patient.

  • Sort out administrative issues in a more seamless, painless way, once again, improving the patient’s experience of hospital bureaucracy and the efficiency of the bureaucracy itself.

The crucial step is for clinicians to ask what else they can do to integrate collaborative thinking into their daily work with patients. Health practitioners need to change the way they work – fundamentally. Rather than focusing on the technology and simply digitising existing communication channels, maximum benefits will only be realised if multi-disciplinary discussion enables people to collaborate on projects around (and beyond) hospital boundaries.

Skype for Business can break down personal barriers; being able to see someone on a video call allows the perception of body language - unavailable on a telephone call. One doctor reported being more comfortable on video calls to seniors - and noted it was (surprisingly) less threatening to seniors than using the telephone. Frustrations were also alleviated, because accurate patient information could be conveyed easily and quickly by sharing screens.

Using Skype for Business in scenarios such as Multi-disciplinary Teams is going to become the normal way of work with health and care practitioners using it for their everyday communications and collaboration

Bill Fawcett, CIO—Leeds & York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

All stakeholders must be connected to bring the right people together quickly, putting the patient in the middle and working across both administrative and healthcare related tasks across both health and social care. For example, the ability to access a directory of specialists or other care workers to deal with complex diagnoses or practical care issues. It may be easier and more efficient to have an open conversation using a private, secure social media-type platform than to set up face to face meetings or exchanging telephone calls.

Clearly, doctors aren’t sitting on their social media platforms all day. The need to focus on a patient at any given time doesn’t go away, but social media-driven opportunities for collaboration shouldn’t be ignored. They could do a lot to ameliorate cases where a specialist skill is not available in a far-flung region of the country, and a list of on-call doctors is available to primary or social care givers on the ground in those areas.

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