Digital transformation isn't always driven by the most obvious candidate, and Anna McVeigh, who's been a key driver at Livewell Southwest's Community Therapy Service, is a case in point.
Livewell Southwest is an integrated health and social care provider covering Plymouth, South Hams and West Devon. They are the largest community health and social care enterprise in the UK.
Busting the myth that older people don't want to engage with technology
Anna's an Occupational Therapist with grown-up children and grandchildren, meaning she's not the obvious demographic to be driving digital transformation. In fact, her own journey to digitalisation came about almost accidentally during the Covid pandemic. Classed as clinically vulnerable, Anna was obliged to isolate during lockdown so tried using Livewell Connect to undertake virtual consultations with her patients.
With lots of elderly, technologically unconfident patients to help, Anna wasn't sure if it was going to work but surprised herself and others with how well it did. Anna was able to complete over 100 virtual assessments with only 5 patients out of the 100 needing a face-to-face follow-up.
We really busted the myth around elderly people not engaging with technology. It didn't work for everybody, but it certainly worked for most.
Spreading the word
Having seen the benefits, Anna tried to encourage other therapists to try it. She researched existing guidance and created a newsletter to encourage others. For Anna it wasn't so much about the technology as supporting therapists so that patients weren't left waiting to get help.
Anna also realised that she would be better placed to drive change if in a more senior role, so applied for a team leader role with the Community Therapy team. Once in the role, it became apparent this wasn't going to be a quick fix. Digital literacy amongst the team was fairly poor, with most preferring to rely on paper. The prospect of digital transformation was not met with enthusiasm. The team were worried not only about completely changing their ways of working but also potentially needing to do more work on top of an already heavy workload.
Brek n tech
To upskill the team Anna knew that they needed protected time and permission. She introduced weekly 'brek n tech' breakfast sessions and with the support of Livewell's digital team upskilled her team in just 8 weeks. Admittedly, some found it harder than others, so they were given additional sessions and one-to-one support as needed. It's fair to say the team are now true digital converts.
It's funny how the team that not so long ago didn't want to even turn on a laptop now can't work without two screens!
Waiting lists and staff burnout
Having created a digitally literate team, Anna then turned her focus to addressing other, in some ways, bigger issues. Anna was keen to reduce the number of patients waiting for assessment and/or treatment. She was keenly aware of not only the impact on patients but also the pressure this then placed on the team. Anna's team were forever working late, tired and at risk of burnout. With patient demand growing, budgets static and little hope of more staff, Anna believed that digital could enable them to do more with the same (or less).
Digital isn't THE solution, but it's certainly a part of it. We needed to figure out how to work smarter, not harder.
The Visiba partnership
Livewell were early adopters of Visiba Care technology with their virtual clinic, Livewell Connect launching in 2020. When the Covid pandemic hit shortly afterwards they were already up and running and able to manage the sudden increase in demand for virtual consultations. Since then, use of the service has been constant with the IAPT and mental health teams finding it particularly helpful. The recently launched ADHD service is showing growing digital adoption too.
Having used Livewell Connect successfully for virtual consultations during the Covid pandemic, Anna was keen to understand how Visiba could help her team with their challenges. They had already identified the key issues and success factors and mapped out a clear project plan. The Visiba team then worked closely with them to map pathways and understand where digitalisation could help to create efficiencies.
The team were hugely positive and clear about what needed to be addressed. Broadly speaking this fell into several groups:
- Increase capacity and access - reducing travel time and unnecessary visits and being better able to prioritise to create more capacity to see more patients.
- Improve communication with and upskill care homes to be more self-sufficient - reducing the 'telephone tag' that so often happens and reducing unnecessary visits.
- Improve patient and carer experience by ensuring patients don't have to wait so long to be seen and can be treated before conditions deteriorate.
- Create wider system benefits by reducing admissions and striving to keep patients well for longer.
Livewell Community Connect
The first phase of Livewell Community Connect has just launched with staff at 14 Care Homes now trained and ready to use it. They're able to send messages, forms, referrals, images and videos and access online resources such as hoist training. They can also set up virtual meetings so that Anna's team can virtually assess patients.
Eventually there will be virtual clinics for MDTs and the District Nursing team will also have access. Beyond that, Anna aims to roll the service out to domiciliary care agencies and is thinking about how they might include GPs. We will regularly review success together and track achievement against clearly defined KPIs to make sure that we're making a difference.
Anna's humble about what she's achieved so far but when asked, admits that her grown-up children are super proud. For now, she's really pleased to see her team training each other and watching how they've converted to seeing digital as their friend.
Asked what she sees as the ultimate goal, it's really simple, enable her service to meet their care aims. Her final words on the matter?
Digital can be your friend. Don't fear it. Embrace it.