The second in a two-part post on NHS digital engagement in the social era; part one discussed the NHS Information Strategy: Patient feedback and social media

The Department of Health’s Information Strategy seeks to transform our experience of care by using feedback from patients, users and communities as a catalyst for service improvement. As Britain enters the Social Era, digital engagement will become increasingly important, requiring care organisations to interweave online and offline communications in a strategy which, given austerity, clearly demonstrates how investment delivers improved outcomes.

Digital engagement raises new challenges for care organisations who have responded with different levels of maturity: from denial and curiosity, through experimentation and implementation of new ways of working, towards full integration into care. Consequently, organisations like the Department of Health, the NHS Confederation, NHS Primary Care Commissioning, the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement and Public Health Wales are developing more strategic approaches.

Based on our experience at Dell, we see a digital engagement strategy includes:

Objectives: engagement is strategic when aligned with the care organisation’s wider goals, when its impact can be measured and when it is fully integrated with the processes delivering care.

Care organisations should consider engagement objectives which support their wider goals, enhancing and augmenting existing channels of communication, and also the key stakeholders to be influenced to help overcome barriers to achieving them.

People: engagement is primarily about people and change. Care organisations should consider the groups they want to reach, why, how and where these groups gather online, the information they want to access and whether they can be engaged by the organisation in ways which will add real value.

Resources:  engagement is a sustained, long-term activity requiring committed resources, not a short-lived campaign leaving engaged groups hanging. Arguably, only the organisation’s staff can build trusted many-to-many relationships at meaningful scale. Consequently, change agents across the organisation need to be identified and empowered.

Care organisations should consider the levels of staff participation required, whether to build relationships with credible external advocates and communities, the need for a social media policy, requirements for training and for supporting engagement tools.  

Engage: start by listening, understanding the conversation before determining how best to contribute. Care organisations should consider how they will listen and evaluate before actively engaging, then how they will manage and respond to the feedback engagement will generate.

Measure: if engagement supports overall goals, then its impact on existing performance measures will be primary indicators of success. Care organisations should consider how progress towards achieving engagement objectives will be assessed, the key performance indicators to be put in place and how improvements in outcomes will be measured.

Social metrics such as: awareness, actual audience size, reach and share of voice; engagement, levels of participation; influence, how relevant and credible the organisation is deemed; and advocacy, feedback, opinions and recommendations can provide quantitative measures. Monitoring techniques such as sentiment analysis can be used to provide supporting, qualitative indicators. Given potential ethical and privacy issues, organisations need to be transparent in their use of such techniques and ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

Iterate: test and learn. Momentum can be built through experimentation, iteration and refinement, small, consistent moves focussed on delivering engagement objectives. Measuring results allows the organisation to identify what is, and is not, working well, the issues to be rectified and adjustments to be made. Resources and investment can then be focussed on scaling those initiatives delivering the greatest benefit, building on initial successes to incorporate further objectives.

Lao Tzu, the 6th century Chinese philosopher, wrote “the journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet”. Care organisations taking their first steps into the Social Era should do so with a clear end in mind.

We hope NHS Trusts and care organisations find this a useful introduction when considering their own approaches to digital engagement. We welcome your feedback and comments.