#LettersHack – Rethinking patient correspondence

Sketchnotes from Lou Shackleton
Digital Front door, Websites, social media, email, SMS, missed appointments, we need quality content that helps patients to know what to do next
Sketchnotes of the session from Lou Shackleton

I’m a little late to the party with this blog, and others have already shared their thoughts and enthusiasm about #LettersHack – Rethinking patient correspondence (Eventbrite link for details) held on 12 Oct 22. If you’re curious to know what others enjoyed about the day, check Twitter and LinkedIn using the #LettersHack tag.  Also, please do read the write up from Hilary Stephenson, MD, Nexer Digital, ‘Is there a Doctor in the room?

I wrote one of my first blog posts about improving patient communication and the opportunity to use digital solutions to improve patient experience in 2018, after a series of missed opportunities with appointments, cancellation, rebooking, transfers of information between health care providers, all which prompted me to share my experience.  Four years on, it appears from the many examples of where it goes wrong, there is more complexity than ever. 

#LettersHack planning started before the Covid19 pandemic, with a desire to improve letter content, so that users of health and care services would not miss vital healthcare appointments.  Good patient communications help people to understand what has happened, what to expect next and feel included in their healthcare journey.  As a result of the rapid expansion of remote modes of contact and service delivery, we extended the scope of the event to consider the multiple modes of communications now in use. 

Lisa Drake, describing some of the practice perspectives of communication and sharing examples of the challenges in general practice

My part in the day was to set the scene for some of that rapid change in General Practice, but most importantly to state from the start; people don’t set out to do this badly and are often blissfully unaware of the consequences of poor communication.  There are many constraints in the systems or software available to General Practice and this ‘stuff’ can make communicating it harder to do.

Many ‘internal thinking’ configuration choices were never envisaged to become visible externally to patients or other parts of healthcare.  Electronic patient records weren’t designed with patient visibility as a factor, and we are seeing this very challenge played out now with concerns and delays to the online records access programme.  I attempted to share some of these challenges; lack of time, poorly designed products, changes in regulation, societal norms and policy, and often, where the tech just hasn’t caught up.  I offered plenty of examples of unintended consequences where communication just doesn’t achieve its aim, may have caused frustration, confusion, or concern, or just wasted people’s time.

At Redmoor Health, we feel passionate about supporting General Practice and offer lots of help and advice to front line teams to deal with these daily challenges. It was lovely to work with the Nexer team on this event, bringing their inclusivity and service design thinking to our digital communications and change, training and support programmes and we look forward to further events together.

Lets Talk about Sex - Emma Parnell. sketchnotes by Danielle Stone

We all know the NHS is under extreme pressure, in fact someone commented in the session that ‘it’s broken’.  At the same time, many of us are patients and active citizens who want to get this right and help where we can.  There was definite sense in the room of ‘we can do this better’ without blame or criticism. In fact, Emma Parnell, Founder of Design for Joy, hit the nail on the head during her wonderful set, ‘Let’s talk about sex’ with the question, ‘How can we use our collective experience and influence to make a difference?’

Emma’s talk really drove home the absolute need for NHS services and systems to be inclusive, and the need also to question why we collect some data, along with how we do that in a way that makes people see themselves and feel comfortable accessing essential services. 

Emma Parnell describing the service design changes behind the NHS covid vaccination system to be more inclusive for trans community

Sarah Wilcox, Senior Content Designer, NHS Digital was equally inspiring, sharing her personal experience of less than effective communication (I’m being kind – the experience was rubbish) and walked us through the wonderful thing that is the NHS digital service manual, emphasising the importance of inclusive language to ensure broadest reach of the population, through the elements of the content style guide.

These were perfect examples of using our personal experiences to do something positive about it.  The mix of people in the room provided us with an opportunity to consider many perspectives. Some offered insight into the setting of standards; core content requirements, timeliness of delivery of information, items that should be communicated between hospital and GP.  Others, led strategic IT programs of delivery, such as covid vaccination invitations and vaccination recording.  There were people who designed and delivered products to support General Practice with websites, communication and messaging systems, applications to access transactional services to help people order prescriptions, book and cancelling appointments.  Most importantly, everyone felt aligned in their desire to improve the experience for users; and that’s people who both receive and deliver communications.

We chose to three main categories of communication to unpick;

  1. Broadcast – using social media and websites
  2. Targeted – using message systems to deliver public health campaigns
  3. Personalised – using individually tailored content, via messages, letters, or even phone calls.

The afternoon breakout sessions had plenty of examples of communication to scrutinise and rethink or rewrite.  Our group task was to consider ‘How do we use social media to maximise uptake of public health screening, whilst acknowledging the diverse communities we serve?’  We considered why people are nervous about some procedures, what they would want to know before attending, where we could find trusted information to back up short, impactful messages that reach the many different sections of the population.  Fascinating discussion was held on what is and isn’t humour and plenty of chuckles about references to cats and dogs – even the Kama Sutra and a need for a modern etiquette guide to reflect today’s diversity – genius.  We had rich, powerful, and engaging conversations that rarely happen over Teams meetings!  We also realised that these events don’t work well as hybrid, our sincere apologies to the people at home who only got to see torsos, rather than faces due to camera angle.

Amy with flip chart, post its, blutack, example sms content, suggested improvements

Social media has great potential to reach diverse communities and many surgeries now take advantage of our support with public health campaign messages.  Recognising time pressure, the Redmoor team help by creating content, administering pages, scheduling, and boosting posts to reach specific targeted audiences and have seen an increased reach and uptake of health screening as a result.  If you’d like to know a bit more, check our social media managed service information.

When it comes to websites, and integration with online services and consulting, we can also help NHS Teams and practices to smooth that patient or user journey, so that the practice and patients gets the best out of whatever system is available to them.  We’ve created digital journey planner to help staff to self assess their digital service delivery.   Three modules are already available to support good patient communication, GP online services and digital inclusion, with lots of learning materials to inform about websites, inclusive communications, effective use of messages etc.

Over the coming months, Nexer will continue to gather examples of patient communications, good and not so good on their airtable platform in the hope of creating good content library and guides in future sessions.  Iatro also have a commons library to share good website content for GP Practices.  Drop yours in via any of the social media platforms with #LettersHack tag and we’ll pick them up.

I can’t wait for the next session. Thank you to everyone who joined and made it so good.

PS Hilary did tell everyone we are sisters; I’d have let people guess….

Highly usable websites, inclusive and accessible content – all coming to a GP website near you

Well, this is very welcome…  

Future NHS page with the ‘creating a highly usable and accessible GP Website for patients’ guide, and ‘Patient-user research to support’

In the last few weeks there are some super updates to the guidance from NHS Digital and NHS England that will help GP practices to create inclusive content and usable websites. It should also make lives easier for people who need to use the ‘Digital front door’, aka GP practice websites. 

I’m talking about the updates to the NHS Digital service manual,  Content style guide and the ‘Creating a highly usable and accessible GP Website’ from NHS England’s user research team, Dominic Vallely and Emmy Graham. We’ll be exploring the content style guide and the ways in which practices communicate with patients in a joint event with Nexer Digital on the 12th October 22 (have a peek on Twitter at #LettersHack).

If you’ve followed my other GP website blogs ….

You’ll realise that I have a bit of thing for GP websites.  In my day job, I sit at the intersection between policy makers, NHS commissioners, specialists in inclusive and accessible research and service design, product suppliers and the people in practices who try and make sense of it all, to provide services to us as patients in the NHS.  It’s a nice place to sit.  I don’t need to be a specialist, I don’t need to have the technical know-how, and although I do know a fair bit about General Practice, service improvement and delivery, we all have experiences as patients that we can lean on and learn from. This guidance brings much of that knowledge into one place. 

This is why the guides are so helpful….   

GP Practices have a myriad of contract requirements to meet, in fact there are 10 pages of items listed in the ‘highly usable website guide’.  Many of them are iterations of earlier contract requirements, it’s no wonder practice teams are confused – I’m confused by much of it too.  The GP website supplier market is large, as is the online consultation market and each supplier clearly wants to do the best for their clients – the practices.  But occasionally and possibly due to the market competition, these suppliers sometimes focus a bit too much on their own branding and product and not quite enough on the usability of their product, either from a General Practice team perspective or the intended end user, i.e. the patient.  They may forget that their product needs to be connected to another NHS service and so needs to conform to the standards and style of the NHS brand, which is trusted and researched to reach as many people as possible.  Often, the user is confused when they access information online and get diverted off to a supplier’s platform, or suddenly the page no longer looks like their GP practice or even an NHS service. 

Home page from NHS Digital service manual showing the Standard for creating health content

Colours matter, language and content matters, the user’s journey matters, the technical layout matters.  For the practice teams who have a million other things to do, simple ‘how to’ instructions and examples help enormously and these guides offer sample layouts with ‘things to include’ and just as importantly, things ‘not to include and say’. 

Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director at Nexer Digital says,

It’s great to see the convergence of user centred design standards and technical platforms across the NHS and their vendor network. Sadly, in our work we have seen real issues with the core usability and accessibility of websites, consultation platforms and apps used for digital engagement. This feels like such a missed opportunity at a time where digital inclusion is vital for patients, their families and those delivering services under immense pressure. Anything that provides practical guidance, which is evidenced by user research and makes things more inclusive, from content design through to platform configuration, will improve the experience for patients, clinicians and administrative teams.’

Hilary Stephenson, Managing Director at Nexer Digital

Now the work starts….

There are over 6500 GP practices in England, just over 900 in Scotland, almost 400 in Wales and over 300 in Northern Ireland, each serving their average registered population of 9000 people.  That’s a lot of people to reach to reduce the variation of experience for users and for practice teams who provide information.  We have incorporated this guidance along with simple advice, hints and tips into an easy-to-use system called the Digital journey planner (DJP).  The first module; Patient Communications deals with Websites, Social Media and Messaging, The second module; GP Online Services covers everything that practice teams need to know to provide a good online service and make that easy for patients to use. If you are getting ready for patients having full online access to their medical records later this year, it’s a must. Our next module, due for release at end of Sept will be Digital Inclusion.

Map showing location of practices in England using the Digital Journey Planner. Blue dots have Foundation access, green dots are practices with Enhanced support from Redmoor Health to embed digital service delivery. Aug 2022.

So far 10% of practices are using this system in England currently and we aim for 25% before the end of the year.  At Redmoor Health we work with practice teams to help improve digital knowledge, skills, confidence and competence and offer support in terms of training, coaching, advice and share best practice resources that save practices time when searching for help.  These guides are essential learning tools to embed in the DJP, so they are easy to find and stand alongside practical hints and tips when to use.  Some areas have already commissioned Redmoor Health to carry out reviews across all their practice websites, just to get a feel for the scale of the problem and ideas how to help. Others have offered incentive schemes for practices to have the time and space to make the changes, so we anticipate this as a big opportunity to improve, standardise and simplify access to information.   

The suppliers…. 

Good suppliers have been using these standards for some time and have already created NHS style guided website templates, that meet the accessibility and usability needs of users and practice teams.  Others recognise that they need to encourage practices to move away from old legacy systems, personalised styles and ‘whizzy websites’ to be more consistent, and to simplify the user journey.  I’m quite sure many more will now take on these recommendations following the detailed patient user research that informed the guide. I spoke to a few to get their views of the research and guidance.

Iatro Practice 365 have already produced a simple version and template for practice teams to know what to add to their website. Thomas Porteus said,

‘We’ve been behind the NHS Service Design Toolkit since we started, it’s been a pleasure to work with NHS teams openly and to be able to contribute our own code back to the project for the good of all NHS organisations. The guidance is a really great point of reference for practices wondering where to start, and what to avoid’

Thomas Porteus, CEO and Founder of Iatro

Tim Green, co-founder of GPsurgery.net, commented:

As advocates for patient-friendly, accessible websites since we began working with GP surgeries in 2004, we warmly welcome this new evidence-based guidance from the NHS Digital First Primary Care team. Clearly focused on simplifying the patient journey, the guidance offers practical advice and tips for practices and commissioners aiming to improve patient experience, reduce digital inequalities and remove barriers to access for patients with disabilities.“

Tim Green, co-founder of GPsurgery.net

Dillon Sykes, NHS Partnerships Manager and Joe McGrath, Product Manager for Livi have been developing the full patient journey via their website platform to connect to the NHSApp.

‘At Livi we welcome this new guidance from NHS England. Accessibility is not about sticking assistive technology onto the website. It is about building the website from the ground up to work with third-party assistive technology (e.g. screen readers). It is also about ensuring the website content is written in a way that is clear and understandable by the majority of users.  By using the NHS Digital Service design system, Livi websites are NHS branded, optimising functionality and providing confidence for patients to engage with online GP services (as well as other locally commissioned services and third-party tools). We believe practices should have generic accessible content and definitions of local service providers to help patients manage their own care. This approach has allowed us to build a practice website platform that gives practices back more time to spend on patient care by:

  • nudging more patients to digital services and appropriate alternative NHS services,
  • reducing the time needed to manage and maintain the website
Dillon Sykes, NHS Partnerships Manager

To the commissioners – let’s do this together….

Most useful in the website guide is valuable information for NHS commissioning teams to help procure GP websites ‘at scale’ and to know what to ask of suppliers in terms of user testing.  Perhaps now is the time to rethink the stance that ‘it’s a GMS requirement to have an online presence’. This must be the way forward to support local population communications and connecting the services at a local level for patients. It will support primary care network development and reduce the burden on individual practices to know and learn about website technicalities, so they can just focus on the message and how it is presented or accessed.    As more services are delivered together, why would we expect each separate practice to upload its own content and service description?  Surely this is done once by the local service provider?  Let’s take a current example.  Practices will all be delivering Flu and Covid boosters soon.  They need one single page for who’s eligible, then the ability to edit and add what’s happening locally, so that people know how to book and where to go.    Currently each website supplier may duplicate this, and some are good enough to offer a ‘Flu’ content page.  NHS England have issued the criteria in a Specification.  Public Health (UK Health Security Agency) have some promotional material, and poor practice managers will be trying to make sense of it all to tell their patients what is happening, whilst awaiting the final dates from vaccine suppliers and working out which members of the team can deliver.  One forward thinking area has thankfully collated all of this information together for its member practices and wait for it…… shared it as a google drive document to 200+ practices via email!!! That’s my Friday job folks – to upload and create this years Flu page.

google drive document containing all of the information required for 2022/23 Flu campaign

Hopefully, you can see where I’m going with this. Do we really need 6500 individual digital front doors?   I think not, but always open to be persuaded if you think the status quo is better.

Can I tell you about the Digital Journey Planner….?

Digital Journey Planner modules and home page banner

It’s been a while since the last blog, but you know by now that I am a sharer by nature, and I can’t help but want to improve things (which is not always welcome at home).  Yet there are many times when, even though the opportunity presents itself, we are just not in a place to see what needs to be done.  Primary Care has many of these opportunities but, overwhelmed staff perhaps can’t always navigate the complexity and volume of policy aspirations, contract changes and digital solutions intended to help.   So, offering suggestions to do things differently needs a considered and sensitive approach and finding the right time is crucial.

There are many competing priorities in digital health.  Some people have policy to implement, others have money to allocate and need to demonstrate value for that money.  Some people have services to deliver and want to give patients the best consistent experience. Some people have teams to manage, and all our digital development needs are different.  Confidence and competence levels vary from person to person and practice to practice.  I realise that there is an awful lot of variation in the elements of this paragraph, so I’m going to share with you, the journey of the Digital Journey Planner and how it is intended to address some of the above.  Because it feels to me, like this baby has had a long gestation, and now its ready for delivery, across General Practice in England – and I’m more than a little bit chuffed about this.

When did it all start?

One Saturday morning in July 2020, I posted a question into (one of the many) WhatsApp forums that sprang up at the start of the pandemic.  I wanted to ask if there was such as thing as a ‘digital maturity matrix’.  I was looking for something that was available to General Practice, to help assess digital progress, with a ‘checklist’ approach, of things that practices should be doing or offering and something that would help embed ‘digital’ as a way of working.

Thankfully, this generated a thread of enthusiasm from people in a variety of roles, some senior leaders, others commissioning or providing, and some were trusted (geeky) colleagues and people like me, who want to improve things. Game on!

What was I looking for?

I wanted to develop something that was easy to follow, that would curate the myriad of resources available to us into one place and was linked to improving service provision for patients.  I felt that we needed a modular approach, to address the various components or ‘building blocks’ but also to allow people to work at a pace that felt comfortable.  The modules would need to address service delivery such as GP Access, and it would need to help practices to optimise clinical systems and improve communications with patients.  All of this needs to be in place before we can successfully move on to do the more complex or ‘at scale’ stuff of Primary Care Networks (PCNs).  To encourage teams to invest in this process, we would need to help to understand ‘the Why’ or the benefits of digital General Practice.  I wanted this ‘thing’ to be a safe place for practice teams to be honest with each other about what they do and don’t do.  We had to find a way to motivate people to find the precious time to answer some questions, then to unlock their team’s potential through new knowledge and to improve their digital service provision. I’m extremely fortunate that Redmoor Health indulged this desire and that Marc Schmid, CEO and the team agreed that we should try and build this thing.  It was after all, the framework that the Redmoor Team use to coach and support improvement, so why not make it a self assessment, available to all.  We wanted to do this with the NHS, so thank you also to Dr Minal Bakhai and the Digital First team in NHSE&I for finding a way to support this effort.

What should we call it?

The name ‘Digital Maturity Matrix’ wasn’t really describing what we wanted though.  Commissioners need assurance and to understand the variation of their providers, so we’ve built a separate system to help with that issue.

Practices have different needs to commissioners; they need to know just what is ‘best practice’ and What Good Looks Like (sorry) doesn’t really do that for practices.  They also need to know what learning information is available, where to find it, how to access support and then teach their teams and work with patients to get the best bits for all.  Then they can share, so that others don’t reinvent the wheel.  Just like good old Strictly (apologies again, I feel like I am doing my own buzzword bingo today, but I’m going to use the ‘J’ word), a wise colleague suggested that ‘we are all on a journey with implementation of digital services’.  It’s not a static thing, so we need to baseline the start, see what’s to do and have a plan for sharing knowledge and best practice.  Perfect – the Digital Journey Planner was emerging.

What it does and more importantly what it does not do

Many great minds were keen to tell us what they didn’t want and here are some of the requirements from that initial WhatsApp enquiry.  It must not be ‘yet another bureaucratic paper filing exercise that burdens practices’. So that burned any ideas of spreadsheets that needed submission to someone, never to be seen again.  It mustn’t be used to ‘performance manage practices’ or people might fib (really?) when answering the questions.  I loved that one – it meant we didn’t have to build in any Red, Amber, Green or star ratings that could be both subjective and misinterpreted. It needed to ‘feel supportive and show practices how to get that support’.  It needed to be a ‘local roadmap (practice and PCN)’ and it also needed to ‘improve digital literacy….to maximise our GP IT systems and streamline processes’.

We were keen to make it accessible, so we followed the NHS digital service manual principles and we needed to keep it concise, so we have limited each assessment to approximately 20 questions taking no more than 10 minutes to complete.  If it was to address national priorities of making the right access easier for patients, we needed to share hints and tips based on our experience of working in and with practices and spread the best practice from those who are adopting digital healthcare well. 

Why we need it now

General practice has had so much pandemic pressure, dealing with the disease, the vaccination programme and staff shortages and isolation, we held back delivery in Dec 2020 and again Dec 2021.  Many Practices have had staff turnover during that period, and in many cases, IT solutions and products were thrown in with little time for real preparation, or consideration of changing process and engaging with people.  The technology adoption life cycle has literally been condensed into 18months. Practices had to rapidly change how they deliver services.  Patients had to get used to alternative methods of access and communication. All of this, however, presents us with the biggest window of opportunity to take the best, and run with it.

Who is it intended to help?

This version of the DJP is aimed at helping General Practice to improve.  It can also support PCNs to prioritise their digital agenda and develop together, to deliver consistency and to level up (I’m there again).  However already, we can see this process being developed with other sectors and themes.

To address the different needs of practice, commissioner and PCNs, we have two levels of access. Foundation access will be available to all practices, this includes access to the self-assessments and bespoke implementation plans.  Enhanced access is also available on subscription and in addition to the assessments and implementation plans, contains better reporting of usage and activity (not the assessment detail, which remains in the practice) along with additional help from the Redmoor Support centre to help embed the change required to improve.  More details can be found on the Redmoor DJP webpage.  We have been working closely to develop the DJP with a few areas and have already observed an increase in confidence and competence of staff, an increase in the digital maturity of practices and seen improvements to GP websites and GP online access to improve the experience for patients. 

The best bit for me – making life easier for Practice Managers and teams

As an ex-practice manager, I know first hand the complexity of the role and the volume of things you need to know about. They are often the conduit for all communications from Primary Care teams, Digital First teams, within Primary Care Networks and practices and with patients.  This DJP is to help you and your team navigate the digital landscape. So, here’s my advice, let your team loose with this – they cant get anything wrong – other than to learn from each other and come up with a simple plan to improve.  Oh, and don’t ask your Partners permission to do this either, just show them the implementation plan once the team have finished the assessments.  Then perhaps discuss within your PCN and do the work together and for each other. 

Thank you to everyone who’s contributed to this project

– I’ve got a good feeling about it….

PS, receiving these testimonials made me a happy person. 

Once I had completed the modules, I found the Implementation plan very useful and a clear guide to the area’s where we were doing well and where we could improve.  I felt reassured to read about the things we were getting right, the area’s we were doing well with and pleased to find help and support to hand for the area’s where we needed to improve.  I found it so helpful to be able to talk to someone and go through and be advised on a 1-1 basis of the area’s I was unsure about. The help and support I received enabled me to gain an understanding of something I was previously unfamiliar with and once demonstrated and explained, meant I could make a couple of quick changes to improve patient communication

I found it really easy to work through, I like the fact it is split into sections making it very user-friendly and enabling us to focus on one area at a time. The assessments that are produced when you have completed each module also give you a good structure to where we could be focussing our efforts.

Things we are doing well – good section as recognising what we have got right

Things we can improve – I made this my to do list which I am working through for each category.

General Feedback – Additional resources were good. I picked up a few things that I hadn’t thought about before:

  1. Google my business – and using this to its full capacity, the link to the video was very good and gave me a good understanding of what we can do.

2. Patient Feedback – Utilising this to our advantage

3. The links you gave to case studies and Youtube videos were very helpful and a resource I can use again

GP Websites – time for a rethink?

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about GP websites and posed the question ‘GP Websites – just what is their primary purpose? In it, I attempted to describe all of the challenges that practices faced and why it was often a job for the ‘to do list’. 

Little did we know then that over the next 18m, these websites would become so central to patients accessing the NHS via their GP.  With the Covid19 restrictions and subsequent lockdowns, often the only place where people could find information about how to access the NHS, was via their GP website or a practice social media account.

Many practices quickly uploaded details of what to do if you might have covid, how to access services and introduced many new alternatives, such as online consultations and signposting to useful nhs.uk and gov.uk covid advice.  Yet many practices still haven’t updated their core content or capitalised on this opportunity to engage with people in a different way.  The time has long passed where we rely on the posters in the surgery and there are some great examples where practices send out weekly updates of common enquiries, either by large scale messaging and/or via social media. But as the restrictions are lifted, some sites still contain out of date service details, (despite services being decommissioned) – for example covid ‘red hub’ assessment centres.  

I’m not at all being critical of Practice Manager colleagues with this observation. This is back to the many issues raised in the original blog; most likely down to sheer workload during the vaccine programme, with staff working remotely, in isolation or off ill alongside the myriad of other tasks necessary to keep services operational.  But I do get asked a lot about why there remains such variation and what can be done to help?

Interestingly, many practices have remained loyal to their existing website provider, despite some eye watering prices, and rather than shop around for other providers who may have improved website design significantly, they are stuck with poor design templates and an inability to update easily.  I still see plenty of examples of sites ‘written by the brother-in-law’ who is clearly oblivious to the emerging good practice.

The research from UCLAN (password is uclan) and the NHS Digital Service Manual fed into a technical standard which NHSX released to all of the major website providers last year.  This accompanied guidance for GP Websites and online presence created to include all the ‘things’ you should have on your site to help people to find the right information, as well as to save practice time (you’ll need a Future NHS account to access these links).


So, to those website providers who don’t meet this technical standard or follow this design manual – maybe its time to do a bit of soul searching and ask why your templates are still not quite meeting Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 requirements and checkpoints.

At Redmoor Health, we are lucky to support some fantastic teams in General Practice and to work alongside some very understanding NHS Commissioners, who want to help inform their population and to ensure a consistently high standard of digital access for all.  Together this lends itself to a standardised approach to GP Websites and several Commissioners are now thinking differently about who creates content for these sites, i.e., they realise that they are no longer just the domain and responsibility of the practices.

The team at Redmoor have been helping practices to focus on Patient Communications throughout the pandemic and we include advice, hints & tips and support about various forms of digital communication.  This includes use of social media, smart use of messaging systems and how to optimise GP Websites.  

We’ve hosted a couple of webinars and worked with industry specialists such as Tim at GPsurgery.net and Thomas at iatro practice365 to help deliver best practice guidance.  Through these sessions we have provided advice on accessibility and inclusion, how to use analytics to inform digital service provision and shared the key elements that patients need to find on your website to avoid unnecessary calls or to get help when you are closed.  

This is resulting in a number of conversations across PCNs and CCGs and people seem much more willing to do this collectively.  People are now seeing the opportunity to reduce variation, remove duplication and save everyone time, whilst offering populations common access and experience of GP websites.  

We have built this approach into our thinking with a new coaching and support webtool for General Practice – the Digital Journey Planner.  We now have several creative Commissioners embarking on using this webtool to engage and support their practices, to baseline current experience, deliver consistent knowledge and learning to the practice teams, whilst identifying the key areas where Commissioners can offer support to remove pressure with combined patient communications. 

It feels like we’ve come a long way since Feb 2019 – get in touch if you’d like to find out more – just ask hello@redmoorhealth.co.uk

#Team GP – its tough out there, but OC is not the only problem

Slight understatement – we’ve got a bit of a challenge at the moment, we all know its tough in #teamGP in general practice right now. Most know its due to imbalance between funding allocation, capacity and demand and there are a number of great blogs out there; this one, We were never closed from Dr Abbie Brooks @DrAbbieSBrooks prompted me to offer my thoughts.

At Redmoor Health  we try to help practices with digital change.  We try to help embed tech and digital ways of working to make practice’s lives easier.  We also try to explain why this benefits patients and practice teams, helping those that can, to self serve, whilst releasing time to support more vulnerable and in need.  We are commissioned by NHS organisations to do this, as they try to implement policy directive, whilst offering support and balancing the need to ensure value for money at the same time – no mean feat.  And all of this is happening at a time where patients have been ill with a novel virus, some have lost family members to covid, are in fear of getting covid, or have been vaccinated to reduce the effects, on top on their pre-existing (possibly deteriorating) conditions and any new health concerns.  No wonder everyone is tired and fraught, and I hope our offer of help comes with the understanding that we know how challenging it is out there right now.

Access and online consultations….

Some say, that enabling online services mean that ‘the floodgate is open’, in fact one GP actually said that they’d hold me personally responsible if they switched on Online Consulting (OC) and then couldn’t meet the demand.  And perhaps some (in my opinion) wrongly blame the tech for this surge in demand. Others are more honest and know that previous methods of access to general practice were unfair and not based on any sense of clinical need or priority.  The ‘sorry, everything is booked, please ring back at 8am tomorrow’ never worked or landed well.  Perhaps a small minority of GPs were actually unaware of their access problems as the ‘good old Reception gatekeeper’ managed to shield them to an extent. Most know the main reason is lack of GPs and staff leaving due to increased pressure.


Good practices have been triaging for almost 10 years so moving from Telephone to Online Triage wasn’t a huge step forward.  But patients are individuals with their own problems, each one is important to them and not in any way relational to the next, ‘more ill’ patient.  So, many people have no concept of clinical prioritisation or indeed the pressure in the system, at the time that they become unwell.  They do what they’ve always done, either ring the GP or look on the website.  What’s the first thing that many see? ‘Consult with your GP now’. 

Online Consulting and your website…..

Job one for practices, look at the placement of your offer.  Unless you have a wonderful system that offers self care as part of the triage process, make sure that your site offers self care first. Then explain what to do and where to look for information when you are closed, and then show the online consultation banner.  

Patient and practice expectations…

Also, the change in culture of 24/7 access to everything and ‘need it now’ convenience is driving the demand, supported by some influential but irresponsible mainstream media headlines.   At the end of the day, I am one patient, I might use all modes of access, but not all at the same time.  Why wouldn’t a patient expect to use these methods? They do for every other aspect of daily lives. This last year, I’ve used online consulting, had telephone triage calls, been seen and referred when needed and sent images via text solutions to help the process along.  Each time, I’ve understood when and how a reply may arrive, but that’s because I work in the system, not necessarily because that information is available either on a website or via other methods of communications.  We know that many practices still struggle to blend the multiple routes of access, planning this into their workflow and so try and restrict to fewer options for patients.  This is perhaps what seems to increase the OC demand, because GPs are now seeing stuff come via OC that previously other members of the team would have dealt with, if the enquiry had come in by phone or in person.

Practices ask for ‘one system/thing that does it all’ to help with this. Believe me, training teams on multiple platforms with similar names and functionality isn’t easy so I understand this request – but there isn’t one supplier that currently offers it all – there is a blend of online services, online and video consulting and use of messaging systems from suppliers and a ‘marketplace of offers’ of functionality that is mind blowing; no wonder we can’t choose the right product to meet everyone’s expectations.

Education and awareness

Our biggest challenge is how to educate people, on what’s available, what to try first, and how to seek help when needed; making this information inclusive and easily accessible and known about, even when patients are not ill.   NHS.uk have worked hard at improving their website resources, and a number of website suppliers have improved their site templates well, but many practices have yet to benefit from this. 

Within practices, the challenge is how to create this information and disseminate it to local populations, but we should be doing this collectively and not as separate individual practices.  Many seem to struggle to articulate this ‘why, when, what, who, how’ approach into patient communications, most likely due to workload pressures or even time to think about it from the patients view.  

PCNs – the digital opportunity…..

So, primary care networks (PCNs) offer this opportunity and the covid vaccine program has enabled great collaboration, supported by some super tech, software and motivated teams to work differently.  We need to keep this way of working and think wider than collaboration for just vaccines.  Let’s use the PCN structures and new team members to think about consistency of communications, education of the right route of access for the problem, what to check first and where to look before contacting your GP.  And let’s use the power of community networks and social media to share this information.  

How many PCNs have digital communications on their regular agenda or are building networks of digital champions both in their workforce or communities?  And if you’re in a commissioning role and haven’t already done this, please get chatting about blending Digital First, Primary Care & Workforce commissioning together, because one enables the others and your pooled resources will go much further.

Get in touch hello@redmoorhealth.co.uk if you want to explore further, we’re all here to help each other.

GP websites – just what is their primary purpose?

A colleague recently shared a research project they are working on; ‘What does a good Primary Care Digital offer look like?’ We chatted a bit about GP websites and ways that we try to communicate with patients and I delivered one of my usual unstructured ramblings, so thought I’d share some of this with you and ask for views please.

Introduction to the project

When I heard about this research, my first response was to ask if I could join the project too.   Primarily I wanted to be sure that someone who worked in general practice could offer an operational perspective. I also wanted to avoid ‘a solution’ that would make more work for already very stretched, practice staff. Having been a PM for 8 years and been working with Patient Groups for more than 15 years, I have an interest in using digital solutions to communicate widely and have a few connections in the world of digital and user experience design; I thought it would be a nice opportunity to work together on this.  Like many practices, I knew that our practice website was due a refresh; we’d signed up with our Website provider in 2012 and although fiddled with it a bit, not really changed its look since.  There have been software updates, but as we had been on the cusp of joining a new organisation for some time, I kept thinking we would wait then create a combined practice site with a more corporate look and better functionality. So, here’s the first question, as a patient or carer, how do you receive information from your GP surgery? Have a look at your GP’s practice website and see when it was last updated and ask yourself, does it contain the information I need?  What other stuff is on there that you didn’t know? If you have a health related question, where do you search for information? Let me know and we can try and ensure we signpost to this.

Why are websites never up to date?

The word Everything on a To-Do list on a dry erase board to remind you of your tasks, priorities, goals and objectives

Reasons for not updating websites frequently are many, but usually due to time pressures. I also had a fear that if we changed the layout, we’d be inundated with concerns from patients asking where things had moved to – a bit like moving items in the aisles in the supermarket.  Although we add information fairly regularly, the process is clunky; the site’s formatting and design aren’t that user friendly and from a practice perspective, it’s just another job to do.

Value for money or too expensive?

Funding a new website is also a thorny issue. Bigger (or better funded) practices may invest in a bespoke product, smaller practices may see this as an added luxury. A good website should deliver value for money, especially if provides patients with information about the right service for their needs or links to local, relevant advice on ill health and disease prevention and selfcare. A priority for the health service right now is the need for people to use services responsibly. The NHS is so complex, how do people know where to go; use 111, local walk-in centre, general practice, specialist community service, A&E – the list goes on. General Practice is viewed as the front door to the NHS so the assumption is that its their job to signpost patients. But is it really the GPs job to describe all of the various options? Good website content and design should help with quick access to information and good signposting to services without having to wait in a telephone queue. Yet many practices buy the basic off the shelf, template based site for less than £500 per year and give little direction in terms of where to go in the NHS. Perhaps all of those other services should provide information about when to visit the GP?

From a site ‘visit’ perspective, we can no longer access visitor and page view statistics, so we don’t really know how many people visit or if the information is of value.  The world of website analytics is unknown to many practice managers. 

So, where do Practices look for a website provider….

There are a number of proprietary providers that most practices use because they are recommended on Forums (Practice Index, Practice Manager facebook forums etc) or linked to other existing service provision (MysurgeryWebsite, Wiggly Amps, Egton). The question ‘who do you use as your website provider’ has been posted numerous times in the last 12m.

These sites are usually hosted and come with an element of local tailoring with set templates for you to choose from.  Many practices just go with the basic product as delivered from the supplier on day one, others clearly spend time thinking about the look and content. Historically, they tended to be desktop based versions, but increasingly they are adapting to be suitable for use with mobile options as more patients use a range of devices to access healthcare information. I’m told by our provider, that we have a legacy system and waiting to see the demo of the new Digital alternative.

A GP website is a repository of information with links to other useful sites, but often they contain lots of repetition and page changes, with the user losing their way from an initial enquiry. Patients can spends time surfing around for key information, yet still many practices don’t even have the basics of an email address or a number to text for general contact enquiries.

Functionality –   Front facing and back office?

There are website providers that not only host information but also gather patient information too, through use of online forms.  They attempt to ‘stream’ patients enquiries through to specific teams i.e. admin, medication enquires or clinical care (e.g. asthma questions).  They are sometimes partnered with other recognised ‘Online consultation’ forms.  These sites are helping practices to carry out vital data capture and also provide a form of triage, but how are practices assured of the risk i.e. data protection, clinical good practice etc.  Some practices are cautious of opening up other channels to receive additional work streams, especially as not all are integrated with the practice Clinical Health Record system, so clinical coding is missing. Maybe these functions should be viewed not as ‘additional’ but alternative ways of dealing with enquiries; better than a wasted GP appointment for a simple non-clinical enquiry, no?

Many website providers also offer a ‘back office’ or intranet function for practices to create and store information such as contact lists, room schedules, staff rotas, significant events, fridge temperatures, procedures and policies etc. These are used by the whole team and contribute to appraisal preparation and evidence of compliance for regulators. Increasingly these functions are being replaced by better compliance and collaboration tools such as GPTeamnet, Fourteen Fish etc

Do practices have the right design and communication skills?

I don’t mind admitting, I’ve got ‘font and layout’ issues and the limited text style irritates me, so I don’t enjoy this job when there are so many other things to do, but I never seemed to make the time to learn how to use it properly and I know that many Practice managers are the same.  I also don’t have the design skills to make the layout effective or to incorporate graphics or images that replace the written word.

Although template websites have a range of options to choose from, the design and formatting functionality can be somewhat limited and clunky.  It’s fairly easy to spot a bespoke high quality design from an ‘off the shelf’ template.  Most practices wouldn’t know where to start in terms of placing the most frequently used pages/items at the front, or create eye-catching designs that engage users or communicate effectively.

Web designer

NHS Digital have kindly provided guidance for us to follow – I shared it recently with other Practices and doubt anyone has actually read it or made changes as a result – I know I haven’t had time.

This is part of NHS Digital, creating standards intended to ensure accessibility and inclusion and good user experience.  Many websites still don’t address the increasing need for good accessible design and practices buy with the hope that their site meets the legal requirements for accessibility and inclusion. This guide is great for designers, but well above the skill and knowledge level in most practices and I wouldn’t know where to start checking our current provider against these standards. What would be helpful is that anyone who provides a website service can demonstrate they meet this standard, so that practices can be assured before they purchase.

NHS Generic information repeated?

The new GMS GP contract requires practices to have an up to date and informative online presence by 2020 (page 35). If we are to adopt a ‘Digital first’ approach, for those users who choose this, then a website’s original function is being overtaken by many other products. There are apps here, there and everywhere and more practices are using social media to share information quickly and widely, as well as traditional newsletters and posters in the surgeries.  There are many more online services to offer or ways for patients to access these services via alternatives to web browsers.

But don’t forget that NHS.UK (not called NHS Choices any more) has already created a unique site for every practice and some of the National dataset for performance links to this site i.e. star ratings and comments about service provision.   Having a practice website has been a minimum General Medical Services contract requirement for some time, but I doubt many practices update their NHS.uk one as well as their own site.  Most will just link to their own website. So each practice probably has links to GP survey comments, star ratings, who’s who, when we are open etc held in multiple places and this is another reason for out of date information. The connection to NHS.uk is provided from the clinical system provider (i.e. what online services are connected) and feeds into national contract management tools such as the Primary Care Web tool.  This is also the place where CQC look for feedback and comments.

Primary care working as networks

As more practices federate and work as networks to deliver shared services, access and common information should be provided via one page and not duplicated on separate sites.  Although some practices want to retain their own ‘front door’ to maintain familiarity for patients, most would happily hand over the ‘back office’ role of updating websites and linking to other NHS services and content. Will this be high on the priority list of any newly formed network?

Social Media, Reviews and Comments

Now things start to get interesting as people ‘check in’ and review their experience using tools like Facebook, Google review and I Want Great Care .  These platforms encourage patients to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ following attendance – practices can choose to ‘own’ these sites and respond, or ignore but are unable to remove comments so they may sit there, open for others to view unanswered.  Some practices hate this and are really fearful of data breaches as well as opening up other channels of communication. They may have a negative experience of social media and don’t want additional work of training staff to work safely and professionally in an area that crosses over with leisure and out of work activity.

However, if used wisely, social media offers highly effective alternative methods of communication for mobile users.  This recent post by one practice reached over 1m people to advise them about cervical screening services. This encourages interaction rather than one way push of information and has the ability to reach quickly and widely with little effort. 

More and more practices use social media and message solutions to communicate with individuals, groups and whole sections of the practice population as well as providing opportunity for ‘communities of interest’ and large scale communications at federated levels of General Practice. This has to be part of any new communication system.

Access to online services

As more services are delivered online, then application developers are providing better alternatives to the GP practice website for transactional services like booking, cancelling appointments, ordering medicines etc. There is a market approach to the development of these online services and practices are struggling to keep up and train teams to offer knowledge and advice on the options to their patients.   Each app seems to deliver different functions which means that app of choice will depend very much on the need of the individual patient.
Depending on the provider, some websites link to a practices clinical system for online services but can only offer one online service and not multiple options. Although patients can choose from a number of different platforms to access online services currently, website providers haven’t enabled this choice. This limits practices and patients if people want to offer and use a variety of online services. The only way to do this is to signpost using weblinks rather than widgets to apps to advertise the options to patients.  All four current  providers; Evergreen Life, Patient Access, Dimec and Iplato all have apps to access booking, cancellation, messaging, medication ordering, medical records viewers etc but not all have browsers. Conversely, some of the online consultation systems only use browsers. The NHS app is due to roll out imminently, but as yet, we don’t know how this links to a practice website or browser option.


As you can see, its detailed and complex and really does need a review.
The work that UCLAN are doing with the NHS Primary Care Digital Transformation team will help inform what a good Primary Care Digital offer looks like. We need this to help practices buy and recommend the best products with confidence. We also need to know what content is most useful so that we help guide patients to the right service for their needs, quickly and easily.  So I’m glad this project is started, but let’s think first, what’s the purpose of a website and who is this project aimed at?  Please do add your comments and we will see if this can be added to the research.

Digital Health – missed opportunities

As some of you may know, I try to improve patient experience and our NHS working lives through use of digital solutions. I’ve recently been on the receiving end of NHS treatment so thought I’d share the some of the missed opportunities for digital ways of working to help along the way.

The Problem

Sat morning; I found a breast lump, I wasn’t over worried as I’ve had them before, but knew this one would need checked out.

Appointment system – how much is online?

I logged onto the MyGp app to book an appointment with my GP and the next available face to face appointment was in 21 days.  The next available telephone call: 15 days.  Now, this is in a practice will full complement of GPs but with a fairly new manager who perhaps hasn’t yet got to grips with online services.  I know this, because I’ve offered to go in and help.  I’ve not received a call yet but I’m sure they have plenty of other stuff going on in the practice.

So I wait and ring on the Monday morning at 8.10am and ask for the soonest available appointment with a female GP – I’m happy to see anyone of 5 female GPs.  ‘You can have one with a male GP in the extended access session this evening’.  ‘No thank you, I really would prefer a female GP’ – I work with these people so not exactly keen to show male GP colleagues then sit opposite them in future meetings. I know they see bodies all the time, but still, I preferred to see a female GP.  This happens all the time when you work in an area where you are also a patient.  In our practice over 75% of our staff are patients, but as they have been in the same practice since they were children, they’ve sort of got used to it. Also, there isn’t anywhere else within 10mile radius.

Back to the call.  The Receptionist tells me that there are no appointments available to prebook this week and asked if I had looked online.  Of course I had, I did that first, I’m an advocate of working this way,  I spend my working day telling everyone else to download apps and book online.  So I advised her when the next available online appointments were and thought, perhaps they might want to look at that.  I probably sounded grumpy – I apologise, but shouldn’t all reception staff be aware of when the next available online appointments are?  How many reception staff actually know this information and if its fairly poor access, what can and do they do about this?  Are they empowered to make more appointments available online or is the process for doing this fraught with lack of clinical system knowledge, unclear decision making, or just no appreciation of how helpful this is for patients and may save themselves some work?  How do people like me, get over the threshold to show them these benefits?

I then explain to the receptionist (without being asked to) that I have a lump, that I think it will need seen and possibly referred and ask ‘what do I need to say or do to get an appointment this week, so that I am seen before Christmas please?’  ‘I’ll put you on the Emergency Drs list for a call this morning’. It’s not an emergency but if that’s the recommendation, I’ll go with that.

8.55am, the GP rings me back, I’m driving but I pull over and explain the problem.  I’m asked how soon can I come in, I say ‘I’m passing in the next 5 mins or I am free later this afternoon, or on 2 more days this week’.  The GP says ‘come in now’. Brilliant.  Do all patients get this offer, or is it because its a fellow female colleague, or that they are Duty Dr that morning and has the surgery blocked out for these sort of problems?  How many patients would know what to say to the Receptionist to get to this stage and how many would accept the first response of the wait?

The referral – is it really an e-referral system?

Skip a bit – on examination, ‘it’ needs a referral, GP says, ‘where would you like to be seen?’  I know this bit, so I reply  ‘soonest one-stop-shop please’.  ‘Oh, there doesn’t seem to be any sessions showing on the e-referral system so I cant book for you now, I’ll get the secretaries to fax it as a 2 week referral this morning and give you a call’ (yes, there it is for those of you who cant wait to Axe the Fax).

Do the hospitals not routinely show certain clinics on the e-referral system?  What incentives and penalties are there in the contracts between CCGs and Acute trusts to help with this?  We are being encouraged to use e-referral from General practice but what is happening in the hospitals?  As for Axe the Fax toolkit- that’s possibly the subject of a future blog on its own.

‘Great’ I say, ‘if the secretaries give me the booking reference, I’ll do it on my app’ (MyGP app allows access to e-referral system now).  ‘Erm, are you sure?  I’ll get the secretaries to fax it and call you just in case’.  This GP currently has interim Chief Clinical Information Officer responsibilities for our CCG.  I get it that they are trying to make sure nothing gets missed, so appreciate this, along with their comfort with existing ways of working.  At the same time why is there no confidence in this product or to try a different approach?  Here was a missed opportunity to see how it worked in reality, then do something about it if it didn’t work smoothly.  I’m always happy to be a guinea pig for the system, especially if it helps to improve or give confidence. Maybe it wasn’t the time or the place to suggest this on a busy Monday morning, so I didn’t offer and left expressing my appreciation for fitting me in so quickly.

Good old fashioned paper confirmation….

I didn’t receive any phone calls all week, but Thu morning, a letter arrived from Surgery (handwritten envelope, quaint but really? not even in an envelope with a window so you can see my name and address).  How many practices still handwrite envelopes?  I wonder what this costs in stationary, postage, staff time.  They have my email address and consent to contact me by text.  I resolve again to look at this in our practice to increase use of email/text/records access for confirmation purposes.  I have access to my medical records so technically I would be able to see the referral information – of course only if the GP coded it correctly (I still haven’t got free text) and the letter was created and saved in a format that was viewable in the app.   Another missed opportunity to test the system and gain confidence or feedback problems to the system.

The handwritten envelope contains my e-referral number and passwords for booking and confirmation of my appointment at 8.30am the following morning (Fri).  Wow, now that’s quick, so I rearrange my stuff for the following day. 

Now we are onto the Apps…

I have a play with the app anyway and this was theereferral screen.

Is this an app problem or a practice configuration problem – how do I know who to ask?  Will the NHS app solve all of this once the on boarding with my NHS credentials has been completed?



The appointment…(or not)

Fri morning, up early and after 1hr drive, I arrive at hospital at 8.20am.  I go to the wrong check-in desk – its never clear is it from hospital signage, and get sent onto the next desk.

‘Sorry, it seems that your appointment is cancelled, let me check.  It’s rebooked for 12th Dec’ (taking me into 3rd week since being seen).  I ask when it was cancelled and I’m told on Monday 26th; the same day as it was booked.  I might have been looking a bit unhappy at this point.  I explain that I only received confirmation yesterday and ask who I need to call to rearrange – I’m given the Breast Clinic Secretary’s number.  I can see the Breast Screening Clinic sign about 20m down the corridor and it does cross my mind to ask if I can go see someone there, but I don’t want to be pushy so I sit on the chairs a while then call the secretaries when they arrive at 9am.  I explain, receive lots of apologies, and a promise to get a call later that day.   This occurs around mid morning and I get another appointment in a week’s time.

The following day, Saturday, a letter arrives (from an outsourced mail system in Milton Keynes) advising me that my hospital appointment (for the previous day) is cancelled and to contact the booking centre to get a new date.  I don’t bother as I’ve already got a new date, but intend to call the day before anyway to save another wasted journey.  I do wonder though what system is in place to stop an appointment letter being sent after an appointment is cancelled? I know that booking confirmation texts can be sent immediately and that reminders are sent prior to the appointment, all giving the patients a chance to cancel or rearrange if things change.  I realise that I hadn’t received a confirmation text in the first place.  

Mid week, I try to access my medical records so that I can see the dates that I have had this problem previously.  There is a error with the system, so I email the system provider and I experience a bit of 3-way email/telephone ‘ping pong’ between EMIS, Patient Access and the Surgery.   It appears that the Patient Facing Services isn’t working correctly and my record isn’t being updated in any of the apps that I use.  The Surgery escalate this issue to EMIS but give me the medical details over the phone anyway after I explain why I need the information.

More letters and forms..

Another letter arrives to confirm my appointment (followed by a text message where I reply ATTEND to confirm that I will be there) and also containing a form to complete.  This form asks for all the same information that I know has already been sent to the Breast clinic, in the standard 2 week wait referral template from the GP Clinical system.  I know how much time Practices spend uploading these forms into the clinical system, archiving previous versions, ensuring that the forms auto populate with demographic and relevant medical information, then clinicians save it in the records for admin staff to send to the hospitals either in paper form or by fax, as well as storing in the e-referral system. Basically in triplicate.  I duly fill in the paper form by hand, it asks if I have had any problems previously, what medication I take and for me to draw on the picture on the boobs where my lump is.  The drawing actually looks like this.

boobsAll of this information is already contained in the referral form sent by my GP.

Roll on the clinic morning…

Arrived on time, checked in, sent to clinic, named ticked off on another list by a Health Care Assistant with a clipboard, ‘Have you got your form?’ she asks.  I go to hand it over but she asks me to give it in at the next stage.  I’m directed to another desk, where someone else checks me in by asking me for name, first line of address and asks me to take a seat.   I wonder, why aren’t there any self check in screens in hospital.  Also, if my confirmation letter had contained a unique bar code, this could have been scanned and avoided 2 separate check in steps thus creating time for people who prefer not to use self service or may need extra help.  Even better if it was linked to the original referral – No?


Now for the showy off bit…

Here’s where I try to be an active citizen taking responsibility for my own health.  So that I am prepared, I try to login to my medical records, of course I want to show people how this works in practice.  NHS WiFi is apparently available in  this hospital.  I log in with my gmail address, but I cant access any of the apps to view my records.  Is this is security policy and firewall protection?  So I end up disabling NHS WiFi and switch to 4g.  I can get through the app now, but these are my screenshots.

  Epic Failure!

I tweet a few of my mates to share my frustration.

I cant view any of the letters because they are scanned in a format that isn’t viewable.  Disillusioned with online stuff, I give up and watch Homes under the Hammer on the TV screen.  At least the rest of the walls are free from inappropriate posters.  The previous week (the day before my cancelled appointment),  I had attended the Radiotherapy dept with a relative and perhaps because I had this on my mind, everywhere I looked, there was a poster telling me how to ‘survive cancer’, or to join the ‘Living with cancer knitting & craft group’ etc.  It made me want to remove any posters we have in our GP Surgery as its right ‘in your face’ if you are living with cancer or have a suspected cancer.  Maybe hospitals and GP surgeries are not the place to bombard people generically with information booklets – what do you think?

My name is called and I’m collected by a Trainee Advanced Nurse Practitioner, who makes introductions and describes what will happen today.  Before the examination, I’m checked who I am again, then asked if I take any medication and what for.  I cant help myself at this point, ‘Don’t you get a letter from my GP with all of this information on?’  I cant see it anywhere in the cardboard folder that contains my hospital notes.  I naively expect it to be on the top of the folder.  A page of sticky labels is retrieved from the back of the folder and the clinician proceeds to stick one on each of the 3 separate pieces of paper.  A yellow A5 one – for Ultrasound referral, a white one which is the same as the one that I had given in with the picture of the boobs on and another one for mammography.  I wonder why two internal services attached to the Breast clinic need pieces of paper as further referrals?  I also know these labels aren’t discarded when a patient changes GP as we often receive letters with the wrong GP information stuck on an old label.  But someone had ‘ticked’ my GP name at the start so this person was confident to use the stickers.

The reply astounds me, ‘No, we don’t see that information and patients usually know what medication they are on, what if it was wrong in the GP system?’   Whoa – I’d hazard a guess that 80% or more of patients couldn’t accurately quote all of their generic medication names, quantity or dosage but possibly they could tell you how many a day, the colour or shape and maybe describe what they take medication for, i.e. my heart pills.   And why on earth would they think that the GP records might be less reliable than the patient?  This was a clinician in training, who is providing this training such that they are misinformed in such a way about the integrity of data held GP systems?

Best bit is still to come.  On the screen, there is an online form with drop down boxes to select from and the clinician enters my verbal confirmation to the responses that are written on the form.  None of the GP referral information seems to be available or visible in the hospital system – yet I know we have been sharing detailed care records in Cumbria between Primary, Community, Acute and Out of Hours systems since 2012.  I know this because I have sat and painstakingly explained to patients why its a good idea to share and not to opt out because they may have unfounded worries about their health information being shared with pharmaceutical industries, for profit, without consent.  Yet, why can’t this clinician see this information at the point of care and then confirm this with me, rather than ask again and go through the process of selecting drop down boxes?  I can feel my blood pressure rising.    The rubbish boob picture is there again on the screen and, wait for it, the clinician clicks on a symbol and drags it on the screen to overlay where the problem is.  I’m really struggling at this point to say nothing.  Is this the limit of the IT skill in some parts of the NHS where someone has recreated a paper form into a flat undynamic electronic version using MS Word?  I realise this is to create the electronic version of the paper form that I have drawn on and that no doubt mirrors the one that my GP drew on when creating the referral.  But really, is that the way we create an electronic record?

When I’m examined, a marker pen is used to place a + on the lump – is this not an opportunity to photograph (clearly with consent) and insert the image?  Could this have been done at the time of referral and included as an attachment by my GP?  Not with a smiling head shot obviously, that would connect the breasts to the owner (making it a bit dodgy), but a real pair of boobs with X marks the spot, rather than these child like drawings, where it feels like we are all playing pin the tail on the donkey.

Now its time for the Robing Ceremony

Next, I’m taken to the Breast screening area, where I get a changing room, a basket for my stuff (like at the swimming baths) and a cotton gown to put on.  I’m fairly rubbish at working out this sort of stuff.  I’m not sure which way on it goes, the kind nurse tells me how to do it and apologises for the quality of the garment, explaining that they had lovely plush dressing gowns, but that didn’t make it back from laundry.  It’s a good job I haven’t got large boobs as the gape was right in the chest area.  After I had fiddled with the ties, she tells me that they fasten on the men’s side – I didn’t even know there was a gender side for fastenings but clearly that’s why I was confused after years of conditioning with ties on the left, not right. 

The following procedures…

I could not fault the next steps.  The whole team worked quickly and with empathy and care.  The Radiographer was adept and very gently moved me to the right position for the mammogram and chatted to put me at ease.  The Breast care nurse asked me what I did for a job, how far I had travelled, then apologised on behalf of the service for not hosting this nearer to home and also for the Receptionist at the first appointment who hadn’t thought it necessary to check if they could squeeze me in after the cancellation.  The ultrasound confirmed the lump as a nice 2-3cm cyst.  The Radiologist went ahead and aspirated, producing lovely green gunk (how on earth does that form inside your boob?), requiring no further investigation so I was discharged.  I asked a few questions which were answered honestly and competently.  Clearly, they are good at the clinical stuff.  

After I was all finished, I found this on the wall in a different changing room and it made me chuckle.

What a great idea, maybe make it into a video and play it on a screen instead of daytime TV.   




Practice Manager Development programme…. or a chat with someone who knows what its like

I’ve had a nice experience today.  I’ve had my ‘peer review’ with another practice manager, as part of the NHSE funded programme for Practice Manager Development.  I volunteered to take part in the programme after a chat with the Lancashire and Cumbria LMCs, Programme Manager Sally Pern, when I was scouting around looking for LMC-Training-logothings to do, rather than just (as if its ever just) being a practice manager.   I’d contacted the LMC a couple of years ago to see if there was any funded support for PMs, as there was a system of support for GPs, but nothing for managers.  I knew many of us were starting to creak with the increasing pressure and complexity of the job and were choosing to leave the system.  As a Practice Manager, being the linchpin between GP Partners, Practice staff, Patients and external CCG/NHSE colleagues is sometimes a lonely and isolating place.  The programme is intended to be both supportive for existing managers and developmental for deputies or aspiring practice managers.

Its all quite formal – it has to be to satisfy the paymasters that the money is being well spent.   It also has to be ‘evaluated’ and ‘deliver outcomes’.  First I had to fill in an application form, then have an interview to see if I was suitable and to identify what I could bring to the group in terms of experience.  Its a bit strange being interviewed when its not for a ‘proper job’ and you know you’ve got a number of years experience doing the thing they are looking for.  I still didn’t really know what was involved in the programme.  After interview, I was invited to take part in two separate training courses; one to learn about the process and develop the paperwork and the second one to brush up my coaching and mentoring skills; both days expertly facilitated by Kevin Wyke, Liz Jones and Sally Pern.  Kevin provided lots of useful hints and tools and demonstrated a coaching approach with Liz that I found refreshingly,  (you get used to tip toeing around people as a manager these days) a lot more challenging than I felt I ever could be with a stranger, but it seemed to work.  We are waiting to see that empty loft Liz.

As a group of reviewers, we quickly became comfortable and honestly shared our experiences and thoughts about the process and how the programme could help practice managers. Practicing our reviews helped us to realise that we have this knowledge and skillset, but coaching and supporting another manager may be very different from appraisals with practice staff.  I am however, looking forward to my first reviews over the next few weeks.

Finally, before we start our reviews, we get chance to have a review ourselves to experience what its like.  All so far so good.

Sally matched me with another Practice Manager from the programme, and today we both jigsawwondered aloud what criteria Sally uses to match people together.  I had joked that I wouldn’t be an easy candidate, as I’m not sure I want to be a full time practice manager any longer and my reviewer had some trepidation too.

I was sent a guide and the ‘pre-review’ forms to fill in and had received the gentle nudge to return them before we met.   When completing the forms at the weekend, I got a bit frustrated with the formatting – and a little sad that my offer to digitise the process hadn’t been taken up. Itpapers crying out for a surveymonkey approach to make preparation, recording and reporting easier, but who knows, that idea might get adopted for the next round when the LMC team have to make sense of all of the cryptic responses.  I also found it quite difficult to objectively answer questions about broad topics such as Governance, Sustainability, Management and leadership style, Relationships, Personal needs etc.  I was beginning to wish I hadn’t volunteered and also reminded of why people find having and doing appraisals a bit of a pain.

The review is supposed to last 1.5 hrs, then we get an hour to write up an action plan.  I cant imagine many reviews only taking 1.5 hrs as the time flew by and I think we could have spent longer.  Managers don’t often get the chance to open up in a safe, confidential, non-competitive space, with someone who has total empathy and understanding of the role, environment, policy, powerplay, professionalism, personalities and pressures.    And there is the real benefit of the programme.  Not the ‘goals’ that I’ve identified, or the ‘actions’ that I’ve committed to, so that NHSE can be satisfied there is a ‘plan’ and that I’ll be ‘developed’ at the end of it.  The part of significantly more value, was to be able to say to someone else,  ‘what would you do?’ and to receive wisdom in a trustworthy, honest and pragmatic response, uninfluenced by any agenda, other than to support me in my role, in my career and in my life.

Thank you H, you did a great job.

PS, the comfy sofas, coffee, scone, jam and cream at Tebay services definitely created the right environment.   I’d recommend it to anyone having a review.scone




Access to your Medical records online – It’s hard work for practices, even to do the right thing….

It’s hard enough dealing with illness, worry and the pressure that results from this, without having a system which seems to be hindering rather than helping.  I’ve been touched by an event where someone who cares for their son (he has a life changing, long term illness) is despairing because of the struggle to get access to his medical records to make sure he is cared for safely and receives the right medical treatment for his conditions.
I thought I would try and explain why some practices have not prioritised this area of work.  That’s not to excuse them but more to give context to the problems.  I hope this provides a broader understanding of the challenges so that if you too are struggling to get access to your records and need to have a conversation either with your practice or local CCG, this is easier because you know some of the background details.

 I work as a Practice manager in West Cumbria and I’m also working across Lancashire and South Cumbria to spread digital working so Online Records Access is a bit of a passion of mine – largely inspired by the work of Ingrid Brindle and Dr Amir Hannan.


7796AC99-59CD-4C40-99FB-B043FAD21EF6                           443B7A99-7AC1-49A8-BD60-D256F3884E59

Haughton Thornley Medical Centre had a specific reason to start the records sharing  – they had to rebuild trust after Shipman.

Dr Hannan describes this as a Partnership of Trust and often a critical event like this triggers a huge swing in the opposite direction, hence their policy for openness and transparency.  He is driven by this almost like a crusade and has been doing this for 13 years.

Unfortunately, the majority of GPs do not have either his reason or understanding of the benefits of providing full records access.

This post isn’t to debate the pros and cons, more to explain why it’s not as easy as presented.   Most practices have only started in the last 2 years which have been an increasingly pressured time in General practice due to dwindling resources and increased demand.  Our practice started to provide detailed online records access in 2015 following an evening training session with our patient group, staff and with Dr Hannan and yet according to the lastest NHS statistics, we still only have 33% of records access.  I have been unable to spread this work across the practices in my area of Cumbria largely due to the chicken and egg situation; ‘patients don’t ask, so we don’t have to provide’ vs ‘patients don’t know what to ask for, or when they do ask, its too hard to do’ for the practice.   I also support our local group of PPGs and help to raise awareness about the benefits of records access and I’m often frowned at by my PM colleagues, who are finding it hard enough to do the day job with multiple complex priorities and change.

We are dealing with a society where increased litigation is creating more fear in clinicians than ever before, ramped up by risk aversion and caution in the medical indemnity and professional bodies such as RCGP


The guidelines we have to follow and assurances we have to give to regulators (CQC)  are confusing and completely at odds with patient experience and NHS policy directive ie our GMS contract See Section 3.
Pulse, like many other organisations provide both detailed and summary guidelines to address the new GDPR regulations but interpretation is varied across practices, some  provide the absolute contract minimum records access, others have increased their provision rather than deal with Subject Access Requests.i
I know there are really good General Practices, with Outstanding recommendations from CQC, who still only have 0.27% for their Detailed Care Record Access.
As a member of a patient group, I have asked my practice to enable some of this functionality, but have stopped asking as I’m aware that I could be perceived as a nuisance and that this may affect our relationship.  So I appreciate the experience from both sides of the divide.
If you are interested to see how your local practice compare, here is the latest data  so you can find your CCG and practice and see where they benchmark.

Many of you will know that General practice income is reducing year on year and expenditure increasing.  The Independent contractor business model means that any additional unfunded work comes directly from the bottom line of GP Partners income.  If Partners have a choice to pay locums to keep the service going, rather than spend this on clinical and admin time to carry out the data checking required to ensure the records are accurate, readable, viewable and cleansed (I mean redacting any 3rd party information which is required by law), then they will spend their money on the locum every time so that patients get seen.  It’s a continual balancing act between providing access and shifting to new ways of working.

GDPR has increased this anxiety and whilst from a patient perspective, the regulation is a good thing i.e we should know what’s in our records, this has created a huge amount of work in practice.  Software to help carry out this process is available such as iGPR but at a cost to the Practice or the CCG and is only recently developed.  Initial feedback is good, 6A916A36-EFBE-408F-96A7-C73BF15A2D2Bbut their earlier versions of their insurance reports were clunky so many practices were put off by this.



Think back to the days when your GP wrote in Lloyd George paper notes, probably in medical shorthand to describe what your symptoms were.  Many of these old records are illegible, some contain inappropriate comments as societal norms and subsequent language has changed.  These were always the ‘GPs notes’, not the patient’s – but now thats changed, even if the content in the notes is the same.

Each time a patient moves from one practice to another, your new GP then becomes the data controller for someone else’s data entries.  Would you be happy with this responsibility and be willing to share without checking the historical records?  Until recently, none of this was taught in Medical School and I suspect its still skipped over. Our practice teach medical students – this topic is always on our training schedule – even if the Student tells me they want to be a surgeon.

Roll forward to today when people are requesting 10-30 years of this history to be viewable and I think you can appreciate the workload to share this in a presentable way.

Another feature of GDPR (in addition to the increased workload and anxiety) is the removal of the ability to charge for the work.  Hence, some practices suggesting to all patients that online access is the answer and then realising the workload to tidy the records is no less onerous than printing them.  Yet Practices still have to put in place mechanisms to ensure that records are continually checked for external 3rd party content and protect this information from disclosure.

I’m not aware that NHSE have provided any direct resource linked to the volume of this work to practices since 2012, when they funded a Direct Enhanced service for online services for a short period.  This work is now incorporated as a GMS contract requirement for online services, with a ‘stretch target’ for further adoption.  The current figures mainly reflect use of transactional services (online appointments and medication requesting) to present the story of ‘14million users’, so this satisfies the DH & Secretary of State’s headlines of success, but provide little support in terms of detailed care records access.  NHSE Patient Online team have reorganised as the ‘Empower the Patient team’ and whilst offer presentations and promotional materials to support practices, they do not have any budget for deployment or direct training at a practice level.


CCGs are responsible for the Infrastructure to support General Practice in terms of IT and local Training capability and capacity varies from area to area, so unless the Practice team has some understanding of what the patient can see through the various record viewers, then they wont understand the consequences of scanning correspondence, without details being attached to the images.  Correspondence may have scanned historically before this became a priority, hence many online records have no valid descriptions on the attachments.  Practice priority is to get the correspondence into the records asap so that if a patient comes into the surgery, the clinician can view the letters or act on the information contained therein.  Bulk adding of correspondence is a common task, followed by summarising of ‘read coded’ information and if a patient has a large record, then often the GP2GP (thats the electronic system for transferring the electronic record) fails.  So someone has to painstakingly read every piece of correspondence to glean the pertinent details and manually code this information.   There are add on software products that can help, but stable infrastructure is required or else this adds further risk if documents cant be accessed by the clinician in the consulting room.


In our practice we have 3 years worth of scanned images from 2006-09 that are unable to be converted into a viewable format.  That was due to the scanning system configuration at the time and long before records access was even considered.  Our CCG paid for the remainder of our historical scanned images to be converted to a readable format.  Many practices have to fund this cost themselves.
As Ingrid Brindle regularly points out, complex patients or their carers often have the best knowledge of their history – she says ‘it’s their life’s work’ and patients can be a great support to help practices correct any inaccuracies.  Patients can help by highlighting all of the pertinent information and checking with their practice that this is:
A. Read coded
B. In a format that is shareable across the health organisations in their area
C. Visible through whatever records viewer a patient chooses to use.

The introduction of Snomed might make it easier for hospital coding to be automatically transferred into GP records but this has been in the pipeline for many years, although expected later this year.

Sorry this was a long post, but as you can hopefully see, this isn’t an easy or quick fix and it shouldn’t be left to individual practices to resolve.  NHS Digital seem to be focussing on front end entry to the NHS through apps and also single identity authentication to remove the need for multiple passwords and sign ins.  They are currently working with existing market providers like Evergreen Life and Patient Access for the records viewing element but its not clear yet how this will impact on records access at a practice level.

Alongside this, CCGs and clinical system/Electronic health record providers are focussing on large scale inter-organisation data sharing, but not direct sharing with the patients.   It will be interesting to see if the launch of the NHS app for accessing all services increases the requests from patients for records access online and how this will be resourced.


Hi there

This is for Claire @haighclaire and Glenys @cumpstonarchive

I’m sort of messing about a bit, trying something new and then seeking a bit of feedback (I hate that bit already), maybe just a bit of a reaction to see what this blog might generate.

Glenys has said a couple of times – ‘why don’t you write a book’?  This is usually when I’m sharing a story of an event because sometimes, there is a back story to a headline which would make your toes curl.  But that’s maybe for another blog.

I suppose the quick answer is,  I rarely sit down long enough to think through what I want to share.  Although, I am a sharer by nature and like connecting people who have shared interests to help them make their things happen.

So this week during a coaching session, Claire encouraged me, in a very gentle way, to start blogging.  Its raining outside (finally), so I’ve registered with WordPress and I hope to use it to share further experiences through ‘What Lisa did next….’

Earlier this year, I blagged a place on the Innovation Agency’s Coaching Academy for Spread and Adoption programme.  They are recruiting again and I’d recommend it to anyone with an idea or innovation that they want to share.   I say blagged because I’m actually in the North East AHSN patch but I couldn’t see this course in my area, so felt it was worth an application.  I was about to take a sabbatical and test if I could start working in other areas, both geographically and in other sectors, as I was ready to change in career direction.

I hoped the programme would help with one of my regular challenges at work; trying to spread a message about using digital tools, techniques and services to a large majority of people who don’t quite get what I’m talking about.  I know that sounds vague but all I’m trying to achieve is to bring the everyday technology and experience of our life outside of work into General Practice, where I’ve worked as a Practice Manager for 8 years.  I’m talking about the sorts of things we take for granted; we bank and book train tickets, holidays and events online, we chat and network using Social Media, we use ‘phones, tablets, gadgets and devices, software and apps to carry out these activities, yet in the parts of the NHS if you talk about using this type of ‘Digital’ stuff to deliver services or make workload efficient, many people glaze over and then often get confused with IT, Tech, hardware and infrastruture and geekiness – or at least it seems that way in General Practice and in many areas of the NHS in Cumbria.  That’s perhaps understandable given the pressures in General practice where its hard to innovate when practices are struggling to keep going.    I said to a CCIO recently, ‘sometimes, I feel like an alien amongst my Practice Manager colleagues’, they replied, ‘that’s because you are like one, to them’.  Yet, I know this isn’t the case everywhere and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Digital Workstream on the Primary Care Digital Exemplar Programme.  This has provided me with the space to try to develop my message and also to realise that if the context and environment is ready for this message, its heard and spread with enthusiasm. I am meeting like minded General Practice colleagues who are ready to adopt these new ways of working.

By the way, I’m none of the above – neither alien, technically gifted or geeky and I most definitely suffer with imposter syndrome when working alongside truly talented individuals who know about User Experience & Digital Design, Technical architecture and infrastructure and System configuration.

But I do know a fair bit about introducing new ways of working, going at the pace that people can cope with when introducing change, about the need to explain what we hope to achieve and why, also about how to help people learn to use something they feel a bit unsure of.  And I mean both NHS employees and people who use our services.

So that last paragraph helps me a little to understand myself a little better.  I think that I’m able to look for the stuff thats out there, see the opportunity for its use in improvement,  maybe interpret the strategy and then link it to delivery, whilst understanding the pressures and level of competence in general practice.  I’ve no idea what job title you would give to that role.  Any suggestions?  Feedback and reaction most welcome.