Yesterday I joined a great conversation at the GovTech Summit, on improving healthcare accessibility. As a medical records company, you may argue that I don’t have a lot to add on this topic. I disagree. Technology can be a tremendous barrier to accessibility to healthcare, so all software companies have a responsibility to consider how they can help rather than hinder.
From our experience in the past 6 months of supporting the Covid Vaccination Programme in England, I’m pleased to reflect on the positive contribution our software has had on accessibility.
Our software is available, securely, over the normal Internet (and not the special private NHS network), which means that you can access it anywhere with a wifi connection or mobile data signal. This opens up to locations beyond the traditional NHS ‘brick and mortar’ sites, to Mosques, Temples, Church halls, and sports centres. We have tried to minimise the data needed so that low bandwidth connections work well. It therefore works in people’s homes and care homes too.
Being free to roam enables a more flexible and supportive approach to accessibility for patients. I have been very impressed by how the vaccine programme has engaged with all communities to try to raise confidence and vaccination rates for all population groups and meet people on their own terms in their own communities. Long may this continue. Long may the tech help rather than hinder this important community outreach.
Another aspect of accessibility is that for the clinical users themselves. Not all healthcare staff are comfortable with tech. Factoring in the volunteers and return-to-work-ers and you have a potentially tricky usability challenge to overcome. We put a lot of time into designing our software to be intuitive to use, and carefully considered ways to minimise confusion, give confirmation of completion or clear warnings about missed steps or clinical risks. Most users can get access to our system, and be trained to use it safely, in 5 minutes. I have delivered some of this training myself, on-site, with NHS staff and volunteers. Even those who did not own a smartphone themselves picked it up quickly and were confident in using the software after 10 minutes of shadowing and coaching.
Building trust in the tech may yet take some time. Despite the in-built clinical safety mechanisms with warnings and prompts, we are still seeing people take notes on paper and ‘input’ it into our platform later. We can see this activity in the evenings and something in the middle of the night. Often this appears to be learnt behaviour which is hard to shake. It may take a bit of time to build enough trust in the new software to rely on it when out roaming. We hope that with 100,000s of vaccinations now processed without a minute of downtime, that we are starting to earn that trust from our users.
Overall, building any new healthcare software should consider accessibility and build this in, safely, as standard. We’re planning now to support more healthcare delivery at scale, in a complex world, as close to home as possible. We do this to ensure we are helping make healthcare more accessible for all. We’ll be ready to support the NHS as it innovates and improves care services. That’s really exciting.