Channel Shift NHS #CShiftNHS

• Do NHS websites work effectively for you?
• Do you make the most out of your online communications?
• Are you ecstatic about your NHS email ?

“Channel Shift NHS” ( #CShiftNHS )

Channel Shift NHS is all about how we can help the NHS to communicate better, more efficiently and with less steps in the chain. It can improve the patients experience as well as saving money.


This piece looks at what #CShiftNHS could achieve, sets out some suggestions for change and offers some ideas for organisations, patients and government.

Each type of communication we use is a Channel. We all use different forms of communication in our daily lives – these could include face to conversations, telephone calls, letters through the post or online communications such as email, websites or social media eg facebook, twitter or youtube etc.

Communication channels have different costs – both in time and money. The most expensive forms of communication are the ones that are done face to face. The least expensive ones are those that are done online. Broadly speaking, if we could convert some of the face to face activities into online actions then we would be saving ourselves time and money.

@vickysargent of @_boilerhouse_ Boilerhouse media illustrated the cost savings that channel shift can bring. Stats from a customer service desk of a town council showed that the cost per person looking at a website to complete their task was 15 pence , if this was done over the telephone it cost £2.83 and i fthis required a face to face trip into the main reception it was a wapping £8.62

Channel Shift NHS is about ensuring that the online offerings work well for the patients and the staff. I want to be able to find what I am looking for online within 10 seconds. If I cannot do this and I have to resort to another site or different communication method then this has wasted my time and the website has failed in its job.

Channel Shift NHS is not about forcing people to use online services. We will continue to have a need for reception desks and call centres. There are some excellent examples of how developing online channels can help all patients to access health information and services better and more easily. We must consider how we can make this accessible to as many people as possible. Can we improve our websites? Where are the gaps?

Background to Channel Shift NHS #CShiftNHS

In September 2012 I attended the Digital Futures conference that was hosted by Shropshire Council. I am a GP and have an interest in technology and how we can use it to help patients to find good health information online. Shropshire Council has been successfully promoting the concept of channel shift in the way their residents communicate with the council over the past few years.

The Digital Futures event was organised to raise awareness of what this can offer as well as providing an opportunity for some of the leading exponents of social media to share what they have learnt. The speakers were excellent and provided many examples of how thinking differently can produce new results, though new ways of thinking.

Most of the people attending the conference were involved in local government or social services however the opening section featured a live online “Skyped” presentation and interview with the head of Communications at Number 10. Nick Jones is the head of digital in the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office. His team is responsible for the Prime Minister’s digital communication and engagement across 10 channels – such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. They also deliver digital communications for the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office.

The main take-home messages for me where that we need to measure, assess , feedback and improve what we are offering patients and users of services ( e.g. clinical staff accessing clinical websites )

Organisations need to create and establish a corporate channel shift programme. This needs stong leadership and support from the leaders. Individuals and departments may be resistant to the changes as this requires a different way of thinking and managing workflow.

The first step in implementing a channel shift is to start measuring and recording what the different tasks or pieces of information are that patients, customers or colleagues are asking you or your organisation for. Do you know What the top 20% of calls to your reception are for ?

Some councils have introduced a computerised call logging system so that they can capture and collate all the interactions they have with a particular person or type of task e.g. payment of council tax. You may need to consider simplifying your data collection system so that you can more easily find the data you are looking for.

Your aim is to try and improve the experience of using your site for the majority of your “customers”. The data that you have collected can be used to determine what gets a space on your home page , and what gets included where in your website. Your website doesnt have to cater for ever possible situation. Remember the Pareto Principle – 80% of the visits to your site will consist of just 20% of the possible things on offer. If you are covering the 20% really efficiently , you will be helping 80% of your customers, co-workers or patients.

I learnt that some councils have successfully co-produced their council websites.

Just having a website is not enough.

We deserve better and can deliver better. Websites are not free to build and run – they take up resources, time and money. This has to be planned and managed for it to be done smartly. We do not need everything to be presented on the website front page – it is much more important for majority of users to be able to find the information quickly and easily.

Information about what people currently use your site for can be useful to determine who has what share of the available space.Far too often, we build a website it starts life new and shiny, but it doesn’t get updated. We assume that if people can’t use the website then that is their fault not ours. It takes time to refresh the content and as busy organisations we don’t allocate the correct amount of time to getting the websites right. We don’t ask for feedback about what works and what doesn’t. In a sense, we are fire fighting instead of fire preventing.

We were shown some examples of organisations that have overhauled their websites through a continuous Plan, Do, Study, Act approach. The resulting websites look more simple, and streamlined. They have less clutter and allow people to feedback or ask for help if they can’t find what they are looking for.

Social Media ( Twitter , facebook, etc ) is the glue that hold the complete communication package together. Making it easy for individuals and members of the public to share the information allows the information to spread virally.

Many local groups and patient support organisations do not have an online presence or if they do they do not offer local information. Encouraging groups and organisations to create their own online spaces will help to spread the benefits of a digitally connected future.

Initiatives such as the Social Media Surgeries are a fantastic way for people to learn how to get involved in social media. Your organisation could start with a simple twitter account before progressing to a blog.

“A social media surgery is an informal gathering of people who want to learn how to use the web to communicate campaign or collaborate. Surgeries are deliberately relaxed. No presentations, no jargon, no one telling people what they think they should know.”

“Instead you will sit next to someone who understands good ways to use the internet, someone who will listen to what you do, and then show you free, useful tools. If you like what you see they can also help you set up your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. Most social media surgeries have an event every few weeks, so you can keep coming back for help.”

It is not necessary for everyone to be creating content themselves. The “passive observers” and “re-tweeters” have a role to play as well. By amplifying and helping to spread the knowledge around they are playing a vital part.

Consider what are the speed humps that get in the way of patients finding out about a service, group or activity? What can we do to reduce the number of steps in the journey to get to this information?

As society becomes more accustomed to online access to services they will be expecting similar experiences with their healthcare provider. We live in a world that is increasing populated by smart phones and devices capable of accessing the internet. Channel shifting the NHS can help both the users and providers of health services.

What Must Change for #CShiftNHS to Succeed ?

NHS Organisations can improve their online offering by;

• Using feedback from the users ( patients or clinical staff ) to improve the user experience.
• Make greater use of keywords or hast tags ( # } to enable information to be found by search engines.
• Use data from the websites to understand how users are using the websites in real life. Metrics can tell you where patients go to or come from when using a particular webpage.
• Apply the 80/20 rule to the content of your website. 80% of the reasons why people visit a site will be associated with just 20% of the total activities on offer.
• Find out what users want, and give it to them. Make these easy for them to use and find.
• Offer a “ask for help” popup box on websites to enable users to ask their question to a member of staff if they cannot find what they are looking for online.
• Encouraging departments, clinics, and patient groups to have their own social media presence via a blog, twitter or Facebook account.
• Considering how staff can attend the Social Media Surgeries or offering these “in house”

Patients can support Channel Shift NHS #CShiftNHS by;

• Asking their GP practice or hospital what services they can offer online.
• Making use of online repeat prescription services.
• Using online appointment booking and cancelling services (if available )
• Learning about how to access health information online
• (many libraries and councils run drop in computer sessions ). Several social enterprise organisations run social media surgeries to help people learn how to get going with social media.
• Thinking about what they need to discuss with their doctor and what could be discussed with the reception – eg routine repeat prescriptions.

Local & Regional Councils could support Channel Shift NHS #CShiftNHS by;

• Improving access to the internet ( some councils have provided free Wi-Fi networks across the region )
• Providing Wi-Fi access in public areas eg bus stations, waiting rooms, shopping centres, libraries.
• Supporting “beginners” computer or smart phone users drop-in sessions – this could be as simple as providing a room with Wi-Fi access.
• Promoting Channel shift as a general concept across all aspects of life. Education , police , benefits, leisure.
• Helping local businesses to see the benefits in developing an online presence and encouraging their staff to be part of that culture.







4 thoughts on “Channel Shift the NHS,#CShiftNHS

  1. i wonder is there a group of people who don’t use social media other than basic e mail and search engines? How would using twitter etc enhance their life , if they don’t want to digitally interact other than extracting information that they can already access?
    What are the benefits of being more socially adept at using social media, ?

  2. Interesting stuff Stuart – and think you capture very well my sentiment and others as well as, seemingly, learning from the day.

    In part building on your blogpost and in part responding to it, I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in how many public services are approaching engagement.

    Firstly orgs need to go where people are, so rather than encourage the public to go online, organisations need to better understand their audiences habits – define, segment and learn how best to listen and engage. Secondly. What their needs are must be understood.Thirdly strategic organisational aims and objectives need to be dusted down and messaging agreed before considering how to engage. Finally evaluate, make mistakes and learn.

    Also, using social media platforms alone is not enough – what you do with it is just as if not more important. So creatively and innovatively using content to engage is crucial, not just pumping out a few messages through Twitter and Facebook.

    Finally, cross-fertilisation; how many individual messages through different channels is your org using to target the same people? A little co-ordination and rationalisation could go a long way to improving effective engagement.

    Crucially this all needs to be sustainable so planning will be pivotal.


    1. So far I have been trying to explain the approach to my colleagues. Asking them to consider how often they hit the IT equivalent of speed humps when they try to find info or advice.

      On a personal level I am building the aspects of feedback into a new website that we are building ( patient information exchange ) – Its in a beta testing – prelive phase. Really important that we make it easy for the site to improve & evolve.

      It has started me thinking about what information we need on our practice website. It doesn’t need to have everything – just needs to be efficient at doing what you Would want It to do. – considering switching it to a WordPress based site providing reception can grasp the basics of maintaining the site.

      We had an education session from the sexual health team this week. They brought a cd for each clinician that has handouts leaflets & protocols on it. A great idea – saves paper – could be improved by having the info on a blog so it’s more accessible.

      Thanks for commenting. Must get going now. …

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