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Develop an app the multidisciplinary way

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Technology works best when you start with a problem that needs to be solved.

lesley jones

lesley jones

It was while shadowing a young patient through our children’s ward that I was first struck by a problem that we didn’t know existed.

The patient had been admitted with an asthma attack, and as we chatted to the mum, who was also a health visitor, the girl’s oxygen saturations began to drop.

The alarm was going off but the staff at the nearby nurses’ station seemed blissfully unaware.

When I asked the mum what she felt, she replied “I am really worried now, but I don’t know what to do, and the nurses look so busy.”

I was shocked that this was happening on my ward. How many other parents would have gone through this same experience?

A few minutes later, with the oxygen turned up and the child’s condition stable, we discussed what had just happened and what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

The mum’s solution was simple but powerful: “All I needed to know was that it was OK to ask for help.”

This simple insight from a parent launched the seed of innovation that lead us on a journey to develop a multidisciplinary departmental app.

Rather than outsourcing it, we took a different approach. Using an online app-building platform that cost just £500 a year, we decided to build it in-house and brought together our clinical team.

We had a senior nurse, a doctor, a patient experience lead and a play specialist originally, and then we grew. The beauty of this platform was that we could improve it ourselves as ideas came in.

We were also keen to build resilience so that we could develop more. This was exciting and a skill that no one in the team felt they had, but we were all in it together to learn.

We started by asking every parent we could, “What would you like to have known before you came to hospital?” Some of the answers were predictable such as, “How do I arrange parking and how much does it cost?”

Others were less so, such as, “I wish I’d brought ear plugs as it’s so noisy overnight.” These responses were collected, and a list was added to the app.

Soon parents asked more detailed questions such as, “Who will be looking after our child?” In response to these questions, we started requesting professional biographies and photos from colleagues.

As word spread, others wanted to be on the app, and the list of profiles grew longer as consultants, nurses, physiotherapists, play specialists and ward clerks joined the fray. This made for such a personal approach, and the patients and their families loved it.

It was at this point that something interesting happened. Staff members started asking if they could also download the app. They recognised that it functioned as a multidisciplinary staff directory that did not exist elsewhere and were keen to have it on their phones. 

“Certainly,” I responded. “What else would you like on it?”. It grew from there to now having dozens of functions, including friends and family feedback and individual excellence nominations for staff. Staff can access quality improvement tools and identifying teaching sessions to attend.

develop an app the multidisciplinary way

develop an app the multidisciplinary way

This journey benefitted from a full multidisciplinary approach. Patients and their families were at the core of the initiative and led us through terrain we were wary of because we had never done this before.

“The app has been downloaded hundreds of times”

Having done this once now, we have built the skills and resilience required to investigate other technology solutions for clinical or informatics problems.

Just six months later, the app has been downloaded hundreds of times and has more than 10,000 page views.

When we were named the overall winner by the Patient Experience National Network Awards, the simple elegance of the solution received national recognition. The idea has spread across our trust and to other organisations, really putting our organisation on the map.

You can download the app on Google Play or Apple app stores by searching for Walsall Children’s Healthcare or following this link: https://apps.appmachine.com/walsallchildrensservice

Hesham Abdalla is trust clinical quality improvement lead; Fiona Mullner is senior sister; Kuldeep Singh is patient experience manager; and Samantha Dean is play specialist; all at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust: Lesley Jones is nurse fellow (digital) at NHS Improvement

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