Defining your social prescribing vision and shaping your digital maturity strategy
Back in October, along with Leeann and Jennifer the co-founders of Elemental Software, I hosted a webinar on the Digital Maturity Index for Social Prescribing.
It was a great session, very well attended, and everyone was engaged and interested in how they could use digital or further use digital to support their social prescribing projects.
We were asked over 60 questions during the webinar, around the usage of digital today and future aspirations for using digital. We found quite early on that there was a thirst for advice from those interested in starting or scaling their social prescribing programmes through digital.
Exploring the Digital Maturity Index for Social Prescribing
The Digital Maturity Index (DMI) is a simple way to measure where you and your community or project might be in terms of using digital – whether desktops, mobile devices, referral management platforms, information handling.
It’s not about right and wrong or good and bad, but about supporting the journey, improving in some or all areas of technology usage to better support link workers and others working in social prescribing, support the person or patient using the services, and helping to bring together the communities delivering this support.
The DMI was originally developed for work with the Mayor of London’s office and the Greater London Authority and was well received, so Elemental felt it made sense to take this wider and share for everyone to use in the social prescribing community.
Assessing where you are right now is key
There was a fairly even spread of views from one of the polls we ran during the hour as to where people felt their social prescribing programmes were now – from early stage to well embedded.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, budget (or the lack of) was the top-rated item for why digital usage to support social prescribing might not progress at the pace desired.
POLL: What are the main challenges for digital and social prescribing
Already have systems in place
Community uptake resistance
Not everyone has digital access - hard to get buy-in
That said however, over 75% of those on the webinar planned to use digital or increase usage of digital over the coming 12 months, and when asked about the future, around 50% aspired to the higher levels of maturity in the index – both of these really pleasing to see – Digital, technology, IT – whatever we choose to call it – is being recognised as a key enabler for delivering effective social prescribing programmes.
POLL: Is digital a priority for your social prescribing programme?
No we are at the very early stages of social prescribing
No, we are not planning to add digital at all
Yes, in the next year
Yes, in the next 6 months
People first, technology second
We need to ensure we don’t exclude people who don’t have or don’t want access to digital platforms. We need to ensure that any technology doesn’t come between link worker and the person in face to face sessions. We need to ensure that the personal data is protected online, and that systems already in place, where appropriate, can be built on and linked too rather than just being replaced.
Perhaps most of all, we need to ensure that digital is properly funded to enable people to access and use it, and that culturally it’s seen as part of the social prescribing programme from the outset, not an add on, but a key driver and enabler.
Much like any other programme or project, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. We need to get the buy in of all the relevant stakeholders, including those using the services. We need to know where we start from, and what resources, digital in this case, we can use or reuse, and which will need to be new.
Creating your social prescribing vision and shaping your strategy
Perhaps most of all, we need to paint a vision, a roadmap of the future (which could of course map to those levels of digital maturity in the index) to aspire to where we want to be, eventually (not all of it today).
We can break that down into some key objectives, that are deliverable in short phases, so we can demonstrate progress – both to ourselves, colleagues, partner organisations, commissioners of services, and perhaps most important those using socially prescribed services.
If we do this, then we can show those benefits – operational, financial and person centred at every stage of our digital journey, and where digital has either supported the social prescribing project or indeed, delivered benefit itself directly.
One of the great features of a webinar, is the questions that get asked. We had over 60 questions in the hour in October – impossible (sorry!) to answer them all on the day. A few questions stood out from the session that I thought would be useful to try and address here.
Many social prescribing projects cover multiple organisations, that may themselves cover multiple local authority or health commissioning areas – maturity of these projects in different localities will surely vary?
My advice would be to let the “leaders lead” and push ahead, if one locality has the funding, leadership and cultural mindset to do so. Whilst at the same time, focus support on those areas that are perhaps a little further behind to move them forward.
The NHS continues to develop more materials around social prescribing. This is all useful information and support for social prescribing programmes. However, it’s perhaps worth stating the obvious, that one of the great joys of social prescribing, is that it covers so much more than health, as it’s about the whole person and their life journey, either over a long or short period of time.
Housing associations, local government, voluntary, community, social enterprise, charities – and yes Health – are all involved. All central support is useful (mostly!) but taking it and thinking about it in the wider context of the communities we live in, might also help.
Can you give us a few examples of SMART objectives that we should set ourselves?
We also had a question about how to put measurable, deliverable (SMART) objectives together to help with business cases for digital in social prescribing.
Put plainly, at the end of the day, if there is no money, there is no money. However, if you know there is some money (and there often is, certainly around the NHS!) that can be tapped into, with the right business case. You may wish to consider ensuring your business case covers the following
1.It’s about social prescribing and the workforce and people using and being supported – how will the digital support this? It’s not about digital per se (e.g.: the usage of the telephone is much undervalued, it’s a good piece of 1st generation technology!).
2.Paint the horizon, describe the first step – set out a vision for where the digital “strategy” or roadmap or direction of travel might take what you want to achieve, but ensure that the first, early steps are clear and deliverable, and if possible, simple and easier to deliver (e.g.: desktops for all link workers, secure networks, smart phones with a certain useful app, referral management integrated with GP systems, etc). Clear, obvious, tangible.
3.Describe ALL the benefits that will arise and how you will prove them. Operational improvements, financial savings, cost avoidance, technology gains, time saved, “making life easier”, workforce improvements. Think broadly, to show both quantitative and qualitative returns on the investment.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
If you were at the webinar and are reading this, thank you so much for your time in October and now, it was a pleasure for you to join us. If you weren’t, and are just reading the blog, thank you for taking the time to do that, and I hope you found it interesting and helpful.
You can also talk to Elemental about their consultancy offering. They offer a meaningful partnership that is inclusive of all the community stakeholders involved in health and wellness, supporting you to embed the foundations of a shared vision and a sustainable approach to stronger and more resilient communities. Find out more here.
Martin is a Non-Executive Board Member of Elemental and also heads up The Martin Bell Partnership, a health and social care consultancy firm, providing strategic advice, guidance and practical support around healthcare, healthcare IT and general business support.
With 35 years in a variety of sectors (defence, retail, software, construction) including 17 in healthcare (NHS CIO and Clinical Systems Supplier Deputy MD), Martin has a wealth of knowledge and experience.