Client Story

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Harnessing online collaboration to provide thousands of patients with care through the pandemic

Technology offers exciting opportunities for health teams to work together in new ways to create a better experience for patients – from enabling specialists to collaborate virtually on complex cases to enabling patients to access medical expertise via remote consultations. As the COVID-19 pandemic surged in the UK, this became even more important. This is just one reason why Belfast Health & Social Care Trust wanted to get more of its 25,000+ staff using online collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams.

Working in partnership with the Belfast Health & Social Care Digital Services Adoption team, and Microsoft's Customer Success Unit, together we combined a joint deep understanding of healthcare with expertise in digital, and as a team took the vision and devised and delivered an engagement strategy to achieve this. By putting the focus firmly on practical applications identified by the Trust’s doctors, nurses and other teams, the team achieved a step-change in online collaboration, almost doubling the number using the Trust’s collaboration platform in less than two months.

Within six months of the start of the work, 1,200 patients had been provided with remote video consultations, enabling people to continue to access medical advice through the pandemic. Also, during this period, Trust staff took part in more than 15,800 virtual meetings. This freed up thousands of hours in travel time, enabling staff to focus on delivering a better experience for patients and to meet the intense scheduling demands of the pandemic.

Key successes

  • Enabled the Trust to harness digital technology quickly at a critical time for the NHS
  • Identified 20+ real-life use cases for enhancing patient services and improving productivity
  • Supported the delivery of an engagement strategy that almost doubled the number of doctors, nurses and other staff collaborating online in just six weeks
  • Supported the delivery of online events that trained over 600 people in one week and built a network of 100+ advocates for online collaboration

New ways to drive productivity

In the health arena, technology creates new opportunities for high-quality human contact. Virtual meetings, for example, can enable specialists from different hospitals to collaborate on complex cases and save patients from having to travel to see them. Technology can also help staff work more efficiently, giving them more time for patient-focused activity. Taking full advantage of digital tools to share information, communicate and stay connected has a positive impact on productivity and, with this, on patient services and care.

The pandemic has brought these opportunities to the fore. Travel restrictions and social distancing created compelling reasons for staff to explore new ways of working. Suddenly, remote meetings with colleagues or online consultations with patients became essential to enabling doctors, nurses and other health teams to continue doing their jobs.

Just prior to the first COVID-19 lockdown in Northern Ireland, we had begun working with Belfast Health & Social Care Trust Digital Services O365 Adoption team. Together, we were able to quickly accelerate an online collaboration adoption program among the Trust’s 23,000 staff. Although all staff had access to the online collaboration platform, Microsoft Teams, less than one-third were active users. By driving adoption, the Trust was enabled to accelerate changes in the way it works to deliver high-quality services for patients.

Working with PA enabled us to extend engagement in online collaboration in a way that we had never managed to do before. PA’s approach helped us reach our colleagues across the Trust in unprecedented conditions, with fantastic results.”
Programme Lead, Belfast Health and Social Care

Ensuring user focus

The strategy was built on the idea of a pyramid. For the base, the team aimed to get as many staff members as possible using the platform for relatively common core features, simple collaboration tasks, such as team meetings. This would create a degree of momentum so that, at the next level, a narrower group of users would start to use the platform to enable more complex interactions. These might include, for example, hosting consultations to enable patients to be seen by specialists remotely. At the pinnacle, a few users would eventually go on to deploy the software to transformative effect, using it to automate the distribution of test results, for example.

To build the base, we needed to understand how active users were using the platform. What was it helping them to do better? To find the answer, we interviewed consultants, doctors, mother and baby support workers, mental health practitioners and administrators who were all active users. We identified over 20 use cases, including sharing staff rotas more efficiently and keeping internal safety and quality training sessions running through lockdown.

Launching a scalable comms approach

Next, a scalable communications approach was developed to share the use cases with the broadest application and potential to deliver immediate, measurable results with the wider workforce. To land the message a series of online events to showcase prioritised use cases and deliver training was implemented.

We supported the Trust’s Digital Services O365 Adoption team in running these sessions, providing additional resource to assist in bridging the gap between technology and practical application. Each event comprised three sessions, all focused on a single use case. All 15 sessions running in the first week were booked out – reaching 600 employees.

Materials were developed to communicate the value of the platform and to train staff in how to use it. Staff got the right level of information, at the right time, in relevant and accessible formats. This approach supported scalability to maximise the reach and adoption of online collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams.

Driving rapid adoption

Within six weeks of the first online event, the number of staff trying out the tools had almost doubled to 11,000, with 92 per cent of them returning users. In less than 10 days, a network of over 100 advocates had also been established – employees who had attended an event, been inspired to start using the platform and could share the benefits with colleagues.

Use of collaboration tools started to drive big changes in the way the Trust’s staff were working. In the first six months, some 1,200 patients benefited from online consultations, many of which would otherwise not have gone ahead during the pandemic. Staff held more than 15,800 online meetings, freeing up time normally spent travelling for patient-focused activity and improving efficiency at a time of huge pressure for the NHS.

Our work with the Trust's adoption team, leveraging important inputs from Microsoft’s Customer Success Unit, lays an exciting foundation for accelerating the use of collaboration technology across the Trust and developing new ways of providing high-quality care for people in Belfast and the wider region.

This approach increased the number of staff collaborating online from 6,000 to 11,000 in less than two months. Within six months, the Trust had served 1,200 patients with remote consultations, enabling people to continue to access medical advice through the pandemic. During this period, doctors, nurses and other staff took part in more than 15,800 virtual meetings. This freed up thousands of hours in travel time, enabling staff to focus on meeting patients’ needs.

With PA’s expertise, we are finding new ways to use technology to achieve our corporate objective – of ensuring people have access to the care they need, where they need it, when they need it. PA’s focus on measurable results were invaluable in demonstrating value back to the executive team.”
Director of Performance, Planning and Informatics

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