I am delighted to publish a new guest blog today by Shahana Ramsden, with news of the forthcoming NHS England ‘Open House Days’. Shahana’s bubbly memories of her childhood remind me of the lovely guest blog by Anne Cooper. Shahana addresses how we can truly engage with communities and in this case ensure that we get the best out of technology to serve the needs of people, and not the other way round. Regular readers will remember my joint blog with Shahana about our lively Whose Shoes? workshop at the European Alzheimer’s Conference in Malta last year.
Shahana Ramsden is the Patient and Public Voice Manager for Patient Online in NHS England. Shahana has 27 years’ experience of supporting equalities and citizen engagement. She has a track record of enabling change across 5 government programmes including her role as Director of the National Positively Diverse Programme and leading Think Local Act Personal’s transformational Making it Real and Co-production initiatives. Shahana has also worked as Joint Chief Executive of a User Led organisation and has international consultancy experience through her role with Governance International.
Tapping into the human side of technology
I welcome the concept of Open House day. The approach triggers memories of my childhood when our terraced house in Leeds would be an open door for people to drop in; a focal point filled with neighbours, friends and relatives who would come together in our large kitchen, filling the house with lively conversations, laughter, agreement, antagonism and as the evening wore on, we would put the world to rights. Through Open House day, I am confident that we will be able to achieve a similar sense of energy and engagement as citizens, patients, people who use services and family carers come together to listen to where we are and to help us plan for the future.
The Patient Online programme, which oversees the roll out of online booking of appointments within GP practices, ordering of repeat prescriptions and access to medical records, will hold workshops across 4 regions for Open House and will also host the first screening of our new Patient Online film.
Technology is such an important part of our world now, that it makes absolute sense to spend some time within the Patient Online session to be talking about how we could make better use of e-consultation in the future. My brother has emigrated to America so now, without a moment’s hesitation grandparents, cousins and siblings, keen that he does not miss out on our latest family gathering, crowd around an iPad as they speak to him via FaceTime. As many families use technology to keep in touch, it feels like the logical next step to talk about how e-consultation can be used to engage with our GP or Practice Nurse.
Recently, I read an article called the Positive Path – a review of how Appreciative Inquiry has been used in rural Indian communities. You could argue that the worlds of the people in this study and the world of NHS England’s Systems and Technology initiatives have little in common. Conversely there is much to learn from the above approach which emphasises the power of storytelling and reminds us that people and communities wherever they live do have valuable assets that we need to tap into.
Building on this concept, the Patient Online workshop discussions will be triggered by snippets of conversations that people may be having about Patient Online. We will be encouraging participants to add their own stories and perspectives to these debates. This feels important because I believe that the stories we tell about Patient Online when we are shopping in the local supermarket, visiting the hairdressers or waiting for a bus will have a huge impact on whether people choose to take up and make use of online services. When GPs, practice staff and patients collectively start to tell stories about how engaging with technology has made their lives easier and has led to better outcomes, it is only then we will start to see these changes happen on a larger scale.
The Open House day provides us with an opportunity to think about a whole community approach to digital engagement. The Positive Path study that I referred to earlier reminded me about the powerful benefits of focusing on the assets and aspirations of people and their communities. I believe that building peer support networks and widening digital participation need to be an important element of Patient Online activity.
A technological system is not usually designed to take into account the emotions that people feel when they are unwell. However when working with patients I am often reminded about how precious the relationship between a patient and their GP can be and how careful we have to be when we develop a system which could alter this relationship.
Technology is just a tool. It is the local communities and people using the systems that will help to turn these concepts into workable and sustainable solutions.
That is why it is so important that “real” patients and people who use services are involved in reminding us of what is important to them, and how to make the systems work in reality. I am therefore pleased that the Open House day will provide Patient Online with the opportunity to actively hear what people have to say and look forward to being part of this conversation.