Innovation Public Involvement Could Be Key To Nhs Success

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Learning from creative new tools that other industries are using to engage with their customers could help transform healthcare services in the UK, experts claim.

Improving healthcare services has always required genuine engagement with the people who use these services.  Modern communication tools now have the potential to allow healthcare providers to reach groups far more effectively and creatively than ever before, according to Deborah Homa of Finnamore Management Consultants.

Ms Homa said: "Evidence proves that decisions made in partnership with the communities they directly affect benefit all parties.

"There are now numerous examples of projects where forward-thinking health services, commissioners and providers are reaching out to the public and involving them in designing their local services and in strategic decision-making to achieve win-win outcomes.

"We're working with The Health Foundation on its ground-breaking Co-creating Health Initiative, a programme focused on developing the best mechanisms to provide patients with long-term conditions the skills, confidence and support to self-manage. 

"This programme aims to ensure genuine involvement at every stage and level of the initiative, an approach that is now beginning to deliver benefits for patients, practitioners and the wider healthcare system."

According to Ms Homa, patients involved in this project are reporting significant improvement in their experience of services, increased confidence and a better understanding of how to access these and developing services. Services are becoming much more closely tailored to patients' specific needs.

Similarly, clinicians in the programme report increased job satisfaction and describe new techniques they now use to make patient consultations more effective.  Anecdotally, the system is showing improved outcomes and better use of resources.

Although these benefits are broadly acknowledged by the healthcare sector, Ms Homa observed that the value and reach of consultation is often limited by some degree of conservatism in the ways health interacts with the public - with forums, meetings, surveys and questionnaires still being the mainstay of patient involvement.

Not only do these traditional methods fail to promote genuinely two-way discourse between the system and the public, they are also time and resource-draining to those involved, Ms Homa added.

Instead, she argued that once the objectives, value and methodology of a project had been established, healthcare professionals now have the opportunity like never before to explore a broad range of different tools and techniques available to them and tailor them to the audience with whom they are trying to engage.

She said: "There is no 'one size fits all' answer to involvement; different groups will need to be engaged by different messages, methods and media.

"When we observe that so many people can be driven to actively participate in their millions to vote for winners of Strictly Come Dancing or the X Factor, there is clearly an appetite for involvement and it's one that the health sector is not tapping into.

"The modern media of blogging, texting and a host of other tools provide economical and well tailored methods to reach different groups, particularly those that the health sector typically finds hard to reach. 

"Look at the success of the Obama campaign in the US and its incredibly powerful use of the internet to mobilise the public. There is a different way. 

"We now have a wealth of multi-media channels to engage with the public in instantaneous and low cost ways, enabling us to meet them in their space instead of asking them to meet us in ours."  

According to Ms Homa, the biggest challenge facing the healthcare sector is ensuring that involvement is meaningful rather than tokenistic - ensuring people can understand how their contribution adds value and why it does matter, even when not all their suggestions are necessarily acted upon. 

This challenge is made even more daunting by an often bureaucratic system where decision-making can take lengthy periods and where there are often considerable delays between the development of initial ideas and their implementation.

Ms Homa added: "Nobody is saying this is easy, but there are opportunities here which we can do more to seize.

"The truth is that the health service, with some creative thinking, can take advantage of the opportunities to speak directly with, and be central to, our modern communities."


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Notes to editors:

Finnamore Management Consultants was established in 1991 and has built an extensive client portfolio of healthcare organisations across the UK, undertaking a wide range of consultancy assignments.

The work of Finnamore Management Consultants work encompasses all management issues encountered in health and social care sectors both public and private, from perennial healthcare issues to pioneering new initiatives and developments.