Virtual support: when charities extend their services online

Written by: Carmen Paputa-Dutu, Development Officer, Digital Health and Care, the ALLIANCE
and Clare Morrison, NHS Near Me Lead, NHS Highland

Published: 25/03/2020

Stills from three videos with logo of each organisation.

The first in a new series of case studies about third sector organisations using video consultations (VC) in their work.

Opening word:

  • These stories were filmed at the turn of this year (2020) but have become even more relevant in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many charities now looking to provide virtual consultations . A number of video consultation (VC) technologies options exist. NHS Scotland use Near Me. Near Me is a video consulting service enabling consultations to take place at home. It is powered by a video consulting platform, Attend Anywhere, which has been made available across NHS Scotland and wider public sector. To find out more about Near Me visit their website (this link will take you away from our website).
  • We are keen to hear from third sector organisations who are already using or might want to use VC options in the future. As we scale up use it will be important to share learning from across sectors. To express an interest in this, please email us at DHCscot@alliance-scotland.org.uk.

Accessing support 

Accessing support, when you are feeling unwell, vulnerable or not able to travel, can be an emotional experience. They say that reaching out is the hardest part – but what happens when you reach out and you’re then told you must wait six weeks for an initial appointment?

In a world of stretched services and increasing demand, support can be in limited supply, including in health and social care.  And when the unexpected crisis hits, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, vital support services face even more pressure and demand. So how do we respond to these challenges in a timely manner?

Near Me

Near Me is a service that allows health and care professionals to offer appointments remotely through video consultations. Although there has been a large amount in the media recently about the use of Near Me consultations across Scotland, concerted efforts to develop this service have been ongoing over the past three years. It has been co-produced with patients, public members and clinicians and last year won a prestigious International Award (this link will take you away from our website).

Although not designed as tool to slow down the spread of the virus it offers a significant part of the solution for people who have to self-isolate at home.

This is a great example of how NHS teams and leaders have come together to upscale a service in a matter of weeks in the face of unprecedented challenges. Importantly, it is tried and tested and it was always the plan to scale up use across the country.

The technology underpinning this service is available beyond the health service. Indeed, it was originally termed ‘NHS Near Me’ – the switch to Near Me reflects it much wider application. Third sector, voluntary organisations and the social care sector in Scotland also have an immense role to play in providing support. Their services promote health, wellbeing and independence, bridging that gap between individual needs and what statutory services are best placed to provide. Charities are often first ports of call and can provide crucial help in all sorts of situations, not least in the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in.

Over the past year, some charities in Scotland have sought to innovate by incorporating video consultation technology in their work. This has helped them offer their services to a wider audience and address increasing demand.

Case Studies

Our newly launched series of case studies highlights how three organisations have been using the video consultation technology to offer some of their services remotely to clients.

Revive MS, for example, are offering a virtual clinic to those affected by MS who “are really struggling with having support and struggling with being able to go out and get that support”, says Margaret Campbell, Clinical Manager. MS is a degenerative neurological disease which can often flare up unexpectedly. For their clients, being able to attend appointments from the comfort of their own homes can be a game changer.

Similarly, Dawn Brooks, support worker with Rape Crisis Grampian, highlights the importance of being able to carry out sensitive consultations in safe spaces – most often people’s own homes. Plus, the virtual element has allowed Dawn, who offers support to the whole of Aberdeenshire, to go from seeing two clients a day to seeing six, simply by cutting down her travel time and increasing the time she is available for one-to-one consultations, virtually.

Caroline Robertson, Health and Wellbeing Officer at Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland, highlights the empowering element from the technology, adding that for the young people they support: “It built up their confidence, because they were able to speak to me themselves, without having their parents speak for them”.

We can see from just three simple case studies that offering video consultations remotely can have great benefits including reducing the need to travel and minimising anxiety, even during ‘business as usual’. And finally, hopefully many more organisations will consider innovative ways of working to continue delivering fantastic and vital services.

See the case studies.

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