Digital health supports social prescribers in Humber and North Yorkshire
In 2019, Humber, Coast and Vale Integrated Care System (ICS) (now Humber and North Yorkshire ICS) set out their Strategy for Digital Transformation. At the time, the population served by the ICS was 1.4 million people, with 23% of the population living in the most deprived areas of the UK, and a high proportion of this population living in extremely rural and isolated areas.
The ICS was under a great deal of pressure. If no transformational changes took place, the Humber, Coast and Vale ICS expected a budget deficit of at least £420 million by 2020/21.
Digital transformation was fundamental to improving the health of both citizens and the system itself. During the process of developing its digital strategy, the ICS commissioned a public survey to ensure any digital transformation was aligned with their citizens’ needs. Amongst the responses to questions on digital improvements to the patient experience were several requests for patient-related healthcare apps.
Despite the fact that the growing adoption of digital health was clear, many health and care professionals had difficulty knowing how to incorporate it into their service delivery. Staff reported it was hard to tell which of the hundreds of thousands of them available would be relevant and beneficial to the vulnerable people they support.
The Humber, Coast and Vale ORCHA Digital Health Library launched in 2019 at hcv.orcha.co.uk (now at hny.orcha.co.uk), with the intention of delivering quality-assured digital health to their population. The Library contained only apps compliant with safety standards, and provided an easy way to search for the highest rated apps across a wide range of issues.
In 2020, the project team chose supporting healthy living and long-term condition management as key focus areas for their population, particularly with face-to-face services being halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team identified social prescribers as being particularly well-placed to deliver these services, and connected ORCHA’s team behind the implementation of the Library with teams such as Citizens Advice Clinic.
Social prescribers at the Citizens Advice Clinic found the inclusion of assessed digital health technologies within their work to be an incredibly valuable additional tool.
Elaine Elsdon at the Citizens Advice Clinic was introduced to the Humber ORCHA Library in May 2020, and began using it right away. She has found that the assurance of being able to signpost people to the health technologies available, in combination with the robust review process behind their inclusion in the Library, is very reassuring to the people she supports.
The wide variety of health and care technologies (including apps) that are identified in the Library for each condition area means that she can identify support for the wide range of people supported by the Clinic. If a client presents an issue which she hasn’t previously found a solution for, she can simply search to see which assessed solutions are available, and recommend them securely to her clients.
Mainly focusing on mental health and exercise and weight management apps, Elaine has adopted the recommendation of apps to her clients, with resounding success. Many of the clients being supported by the Clinic haven’t considered using apps for their health, but may be looking for support either in addition to or as an alternative to medication and traditional therapies. As accessing services became difficult during lockdown, Citizens Advice clients have found great use for apps to support the management of their own health.
Furthermore, as many felt during the pandemic that they might be using up limited resources which would be better spent elsewhere, or that the complexities of trying to access these services was causing them stress, the instant accessibility of support provided by health apps was and remains very much preferable. As traditional services have begun to be reinstated, Elaine has found that health apps have continued to provide support to her clients, some of whom don’t wish to access helplines or face-to-face or group therapy sessions.
The ORCHA Pro functionality has also been incredibly helpful to Elaine, allowing her to keep track of which apps she has recommended to whom, and based on this, to find solutions for clients with similar health concerns. As well as being able to track previously successful apps, Elaine can find new apps, and apps for health concerns she hasn’t previously been presented with. Furthermore, through ORCHA’s Digital Health Academy, Elaine can continue to develop her understanding and use of digital health.
Elaine Elsdon, Link Worker at Citizens Advice Clinic said
“Without ORCHA, I just would not have ever considered recommending any app at all. So for me, it’s opened up a completely new world. And therefore, it’s influenced me. It’s made me a better practitioner because I have more tools available to me, and it’s opened up a wider conversation with my clients about different kinds of support that are available out there. I think that can only be good, for me as a practitioner but also for my clients because it gives them a much broader opportunity to look into options that might be a better fit for their needs. Not everybody wants to go to a face-to-face group in the community, and something like an app might just prove to be a perfect solution for someone.”
The health apps themselves have been incredibly beneficial for many clients. Mental health apps in particular had very positive effects for those who had perhaps been guided through various coping strategies, but, due to the nature of mental health illnesses, found it difficult to remember what they were supposed to do when they were struggling. By accessing mental health support on their phones, however, they found that they could practice these strategies as many times as they needed to, without feeling judged in any way, or as if they were taking up time or resources.
One mental health app in particular, an AI chatbot app called Woebot, has been very successful in supporting Citizens Advice clients, as it allows them to work through and reframe thought patterns they are struggling with, as many times as they need to. One user described it as “a friend in my back pocket 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Chloe, a client at Citizens Advice Clinic said
“[The app] is very good. It helped me to change my mindset. I can have self-destructive and negative thought patterns and it helped me to challenge those thoughts. It’s such a shame I didn’t have this app in Lockdown. It’s so helpful because I can just offload to the app any time of the day or night and clear my head. I think of this as my little buddy, and I look forward to the next goal we can work on together.”
To date, the Humber Library (now relaunched as Humber and North Yorkshire, in line with changes to the ICS) has had almost 10,000 page views. There are over 100 ORCHA Pros registered to the Humber site, with the most popular apps being recommended residing within the mental health and healthy living categories, and having a particular focus on anxiety and depression, relaxation techniques, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Mental health is by far the most searched term within the Library, but searches for diabetes, fitness and weight management apps are also common.