Near Me continues to scale-up as more patients opt for remote consultations
In February 2022, I was pleased to provide an update on the virtual group therapy platform to mark the launch of Near Me group consultations. Since then, uptake is progressing well as we work with partners to continue the scale-up across Scotland.
The new feature, which is available for use across health boards, social care services and the wider public sector in Scotland, enables providers to host ‘clinics by video’ with up to 60 patients able to attend from their own home or local facility. Before this innovation, video group consultations weren’t always easy to access for many and had the associated challenges of finding suitably-sized venues with parking not to mention the added inconvenience of people having to travel.
Initially the platform was tested and refined with four pathfinder sites – NHS Grampian, NHS Highland, NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Lothian – and with mental health services being prioritised. Learnings and outcomes from these four pioneering health boards have now been shared with the software designers for Near Me. This has guided the platform’s further development to take on board suggestions from patients and staff who tested it and overall, better meet the needs of users.
The developments on the Near Me group platform now includes some selectable functions as a chat box, break out rooms and screen sharing plus the ability to show group attendees’ full names if they choose to do so. Near Me groups are simple to schedule and run by clinicians and they are also safe and confidential for patients to join.
- The number of Near Me groups held each week has doubled from 50 to over 100 since we last reported in February with 2,450 Near Me groups held so far.
- The number of callers joining a Near Me group each week has also increased from 200 to 500 with 11,300 people attending a Near Me group since our last article.
- Groups are getting larger, with the number of groups joined by seven or more callers increasing rapidly.
- These figures will continue to increase as we scale up support and spread plans across more health boards and sectors.
What services are available by Groups?
Mental health services have been the highest users of Near Me groups with up to 60 callers hosted in one child and adolescent mental health service for example. Other large groups of over 30 callers have been run by midwives supporting women’s and babies’ health plus dieticians for weight maintenance and diabetes prevention.
Patients have told us that the system is “simple” and “convenient” and that it is “easy to join”; they also value the “option to have virtual appointments rather than face-to-face for these type of group meetings”.
Patient feedback chimed with what clinicians have also told us including that the platform is “straightforward”, “easy for people to join” and “enables secure virtual consultations that allow the client to be flexible, saving travel time energy and expense.”
While it is still relatively early days the initial uptake and feedback is encouraging and offers a solid foundation to build on. With the insights from those who are using the service or keen to try it out we have identified some next steps over the next six months:
- A series of webinars spreading the learning across more sectors and professions.
- Short videos of staff testimonies of how they have used Near Me groups will be released in the autumn.
- Begin to gather and share patients’ positive health and wellbeing outcomes because of attending Near Me groups.
- We will continue to publish updated and refined guidance informed by ongoing testing and feedback.
- Support from the national Near Me team will be given to more health boards and organisations while continuing will continue to work with pathfinders’ sites.
On a final note, as the anticipated pressures begin to increase staff should consider how they could offer Near Me to groups of people seeking help from their services. This would reduce footfall within health and care facilities, decrease PPE use and prevent infection transmission. In addition, using Near Me Groups would save people money when travelling, decrease the time taken out of work, and education, reduce the need to organise care for children or relatives as well as protect many from risk of transmission of infections.
For further information contact Marc Beswick, National Lead – Near Me Network firstname.lastname@example.org and keep up to date with all the latest news on #NearMe by following @NHSNearMe @marcbeswickahp