Ambulance Trusts use groundbreaking social media process to engage with staff to improve services

Friday, 28 June, 2013

Three Ambulance Trusts have been using a ground breaking social media style process in order to improve the quality of their services for patients. The process, developed by Clever Together, enables employees to offer and comment on ideas they feel would improve patient experience.

The North East Ambulance Service (NEAS), North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) and East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) have all used the process, called ‘Patient and Family Echo’ as a way to gather ideas from staff as to how best to improve patient experience, productivity and efficiency.

NWAS was the forerunner in using this new approach to staff engagement and service design, introducing this new online platform for staff in 2010 and building on its application as a patient experience tool over the last 3 years.

Staff came together through a secure online social media website developed by Clever Together, a winner of an NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement award. They anonymously shared ideas on how to improve their services, commented to develop them and voted to bring the best ideas to the top. Because of this anonymity, great ideas could be seen and heard, regardless of who came up with them whether they be road crew or call centre staff.

Clever Together developed the process and toolkit with the belief that staff are an organisation’s most valuable asset and that this ‘crowdsourcing’ technique can yield better results for organisations than expensive consultancies.

EMAS wanted to identify ways to improve patients’ experiences of their services. They ran their Patient & Family Echo campaign for three weeks in February. Data from the process showed that a quarter of the contributions were made from smartphones and tablets that came outside of working hours.

In the East Midlands staff liked the idea of becoming more aware of how each different role functions so as to increase understanding between staff. They are also working on a plan to implement a unified falls referral process across the trust in order to standardise fall responses.

Clare Wade, Patient Safety and Experience Manager who assisted with rolling out the service in EMAS said: “We were very pleased with the level of buy in from across the organisation. It felt like a very different way to communicate with staff as it offered a new, modern alternative to paper questionnaires. It also took relatively little time to coordinate in comparison to going around each of our bases for staff opinions”.

NEAS undertook their campaign in April in order to improve services prior to tender competition with private transport providers. With a service that boasts 50 ambulance bases with 2,000 staff, their Patient & Family Echo campaign provided a platform to actively engage in a dialogue with its dispersed staff for the first time.

Mark Cotton, Assistant Director of Communications at the NEAS, said: “We had a great response rate from staff because they were not offering their comments in isolation but were doing so along with a lot of the other staff. This meant they were more willing to make contributions, ultimately leading to a more democratic system.

“What is really heartening is that the whole organisation is moving in the same way, clearly engaged in the care we give our patients, which puts us in a very strong position”.

NWAS’ latest two Patient & Family Echo campaigns ran between October 2012 and January 2013. The first campaign, which ran over 4 weeks, identified handover to care institutions as a key priority area for improvement. A second, follow-up, campaign was aimed at exploring more deeply the handover process and what changes could be made in order to improve the patient experience.

Sarah Smith, Assistant Director of Corporate Communications at NWAS said: “A particular benefit for NWAS was the ease of gathering insight from a geographically dispersed and mobile workforce.  

“Our campaigns regularly gather significant levels of contributions from operational staff serving an area of over 7,500 square miles. Combining staff feedback from this source with the observations, surveys, interviews and focus groups undertaken as part of our wider patient experience programme really helps us to gain a complete picture of the services we offer from the patient perspective and focus our improvement plans on the areas that matter most.”

Each of the campaigns were run for only a matter of weeks but produced results that led to service improvement that was both quick and transparent. The ideas that came from each of the campaigns are now in the process of being implemented at the Trusts.


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