At Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, there is a desire to use GDE status to make interacting with its services as easy as booking a low-cost flight. The plan to get there involves greater use of cloud services and Skype, as well as partnerships with industry. Nick Renaud-Komiya finds out more.

Joe McDonald, CCIO at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, says he wants to use his trust’s position as a global digital exemplar to “Easyjetify” mental health provision.

An unwieldy slogan, perhaps, but this is the central strand that runs through the mental health provider’s plans to create a streamlined digital care pathway.

By building on their existing digital dexterity – they have a RiO EPR – they want to make everything from GP referrals to patients giving their medical history, and even patient consultations, accessible online.

Speaking at London’s e-Health Week conference, McDonald and the trust’s director of informatics Darren McKenna explained that by using existing cloud services, Skype and private sector sponsorship, they hope to make a patient’s experience as smooth as booking a low-cost flight.

“At the moment, the NHS is the only organisation in the world that doesn’t want your email address to communicate with you”, said McDonald, barely hiding his exasperation.

“It’s nuts, so we can’t send you the link to set up your account and set your privacy settings or your consent for how you would like your information shared.”

Private partnerships

McDonald and his colleagues hope to lift the best ideas – and eventually money – from the private sector.

Lloyds Pharmacy’s private online GP service DrThom, which was set up in 2009, is pointed to as an inspiration.

Users can type in their symptoms online and get diagnosed by a registered GP, whose General Medical Council number and photo are displayed. Prescriptions can be issued to a user-selected pharmacy.

“What DrThom have done and what we need to do within mental health is what easyJet have done to air travel. It’s game-changing”, says McDonald, who is also chair of the CCIO Network.

“Can we do what [they] have done and allow people to look after themselves a bit more? To do the admin online, fill in your history online? We have to keep up as an NHS organisation.”

McDonald told Digital Health News that the trust wants at least some of the £5m it needs to match the central  GDE funding to come from the private sector.

He said: “We’re looking at industry partners who might want to ride on the back of what we’re doing. So we’re looking for anybody who wants to sponsor [us]. We may be able to bring in more than £5m.”

Quick facts:
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
  • One of the largest mental health and learning disability trusts in England, employing more than 6,000 staff and serving a population of one and a half million via 60 sites
  • Runs a trust-wide RiO EPR. The system was implemented in April 2006, when the trust formed through a merger of three organisations.
  • Chief clinical information officer Joe McDonald has been a consultant psychiatrist at the trust since 1995. He served as national clinical IT lead for mental health during the National Programme for IT days.
  • Director of informatics Darren McKenna has been in post since 2006

Digital consultations

Greater use of Skype for both clinical and administration purposes will build on work the trust has already done in the space.

Using video chat for internal meetings has been particularly valuable to members of multidisciplinary teams spread across the trust’s large north east patch.

As a practising consultant psychiatrist, McDonald is keen to see more use of Skype appointments. This should reduce the 25 per cent no-show rate for consultations he currently experiences.

A more concerted push on digital consultation would also see community psychiatric nurses’ specialist knowledge “beamed into” police cars, prisons, and other difficult places in a timely fashion.

Head in the cloud

The team are keen to further embrace existing cloud technology, pointing to the work already carried out with the Great North Care Record, which allows secondary care providers across the north east to access the GP records of 3.6 million patients.

McDonald told Digital Health News that the success of these changes would be mainly measured through patient feedback, collected on an “industrial scale”.

He said: “If we get the patient online in a meaningful way, they will measure this stuff for us.

“You’ll get a text message 10 minutes after your outpatient appointment and you will be able to rate your individual doctor, the quality of your appointment, and you’ll be able to [describe] the outcome of your treatment.

“We feel we can genuinely empower our patients – put them more in touch with us and give them what they want. It’s not for everyone, but for many people it is what they want and we intend to give them what they want.”