18 Mar 2019

Marianne Williams

Specialist Gastroenterology Community Dietitian, NHS


As part of a series of blogs relating the HEE’s “Universe of Opportunities” resource, Marianne writes about her award-winning digital programme and urges dietitians to get involved. 

‘Digital transformation’ is truly the ‘buzz’ phrase for 2019! With Matt Hancock at the helm as Secretary State for Health, digital ways of working are finally at the top of the agenda. As the demand increases for consumer driven healthcare, where convenience and access are an expectation, there is no doubt that virtual health is becoming ever more relevant. That is probably why You Tube reaches 1 billion users every month and has transformed information-giving in little over a decade. In today’s rapidly changing world it is easy to feel out of touch. But technology is here to stay, and we need to embrace and use it to innovate the future and make sure that dietitians are at the forefront of this transformative change within the NHS.

The Somerset Digital Journey…

In 2017 I was asked to join the NHS England Gastroenterology 100 Day Project here in Somerset, and as a group of clinicians we were keen to embrace technology. Our remit: to improve patient experience while reducing the burden on primary and secondary care. Our solution: patient webinars to prevent unnecessary duplication of patient information.

We have been delighted with the success of our IBS patient webinars. Our largest cohort of attendees are 65-74 year olds which blows out of the water the idea that technology discriminates against the older generation. And the use of webinars has reduced our referral rate into our 1-1 service by almost 50% giving us the opportunity to take on dietetic care of coeliac disease and inflammatory bowel disease in remission – unthinkable prior to the webinars. 95% of attendees state that they would recommend the webinars to friends, with 96% stating that they had fair, good or excellent knowledge in managing their IBS post webinar. Having access to reliable information from NHS specialists was the biggest draw for these patients as well as having the ability to watch the webinars ‘on demand’ at a time and place of their choosing without the need to travel. The use of webinars puts control back in the hands of the patient allowing them to download handouts and re-watch webinars as often as they wish to consolidate knowledge.

The NHS is in an enviable position of being able to offer accurate and reliable health information and could offer a national database of trusted patient focused webinars by clinical experts in a multitude of disciplines. Since winning the NHS Digital AHP Digital Practice Award in 2018, we have received requests from all over the UK from many healthcare professionals wanting to set up patient webinars. As clinicians we have a unique perspective on the issues faced by patients and there is a valuable authenticity when clinical staff themselves are the drivers behind this form of digital health transformation.

The future…

However, being on the cusp of change, I can see an urgent need to prevent unnecessary and expensive duplication. If we already have one tried and tested IBS webinar, why produce another 100 versions of the same webinar by different CCGs? Instead, why not put dietitians at the front of change and create a national repository of dietetic webinars on many specialist areas which could be used nationally by departments all over the UK? With this in mind we have recently de-branded our IBS webinar, making it suitable for a national or international audience and it is available free of charge to any NHS department or CCG.

Along with NHS Digital we are establishing a ‘framework for adoption’ and guidelines for national use when making patient webinars and would greatly value the input of other dietitians with this exciting digital transformation process.

A call for dietitians!

  1. Would you like to add your present or future patient webinars to a national NHS repository? We would be thrilled to know if any dietetic departments or CCG’s would like to join this process. Ultimately, we as a profession would be adding and using webinars free of charge from a centrally hosted platform without any need for duplication.
  2. As part of the NHS Digital project, we are also looking to establish a ‘Patient Webinar Working Group’ to look to agree and endorse the webinar standards and the creation process for national webinar content. We don’t envisage that this would take up too much of your time and might take the form of reviewing documentation between ourselves. We would be thrilled to hear from dietitians who are keen to take this digital transformation to the next stage.
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