Health Visitors go digital for millennial parents with the support of ChatHealth
An 11% rise in the number of health visiting teams setting-up text messaging helplines for new parents means that the mums and dads of nearly 80,000 new-borns are getting more convenient access to healthcare support and advice.
The innovations seen over the last two years are in line with the new NHS Long Term Plan which encourages teams to make better use of digital technology and provide more convenient access to services for the millennial generation who have grown-up in the digital age. The text messaging service for parents and carers is offered by health visiting teams alongside traditional face-to-face care.
It follows a trailblazing year-long pilot by pioneering health visitors in Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, which has been highlighted in a peer-reviewed, evidence-based article published online by Royal College of Nursing journal, Primary Health Care.The innovations seen over the last two years are in line with the new NHS Long Term Plan which encourages teams to make better use of digital technology and provide more convenient access to services for the millennial generation who have grown-up in the digital age. The text messaging service for parents and carers is offered by health visiting teams alongside traditional face-to-face care.
It follows a trailblazing year-long pilot by pioneering health visitors in Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, which has been highlighted in a peer-reviewed, evidence-based article published online by Royal College of Nursing journal, Primary Health Care.
This led to very positive feedback from service users, with 97% stating that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the care provided. Health visitors at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust embraced the new way of working, with one staff member commenting:
“I was initially anxious about using the messaging service. I have been a health visitor for over ten years and always delivered care in predominantly a face-to-face way. However, I now love the messaging service and really enjoy being one of the duty nurses and cannot recommend the service enough.”
Similar services have since been launched in other areas including Warwickshire, Norfolk, Devon, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire, Croydon, Telford, Shropshire and more recently in Stoke and Staffordshire. Further services are expected to launch in the coming months in Bedfordshire and Kirklees, West Yorkshire. An evaluation of public health messaging services under the new NICE evidence for effectiveness framework suggests they help provide timely and convenient advice to people who need it and can help improve the allocation of healthcare resources.
At Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, new parents and carers have responded remarkably to the new ChatHealth text messaging service. Following the launch on 1st October 2018, in just the first three months they received over 5,000 messages from over 1,000 parent/carer contacts in the Hampshire area. This is roughly four times the amount of house call contacts a single health visitor could make in a month.
The new digital services supplement face-to-face appointments between health visitors and new parents, which continue to be available. In Hampshire, 64% of the queries received by text were dealt with entirely as messaging conversations, 11% led to face-to-face health visitor appointment and other outcomes have included GP referrals. So far, the main types of contact have been regarding minor illness and feeding.
Barbara Hollis, Area Manager for South East Hampshire Health Visiting Teams said:
“Becoming a parent can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be really daunting and all parents have questions. ChatHealth has enabled our Health Visitors to provide that advice in a really responsive way, to a much greater number of people than we would normally be able to, without impacting on other areas of our work.”
Feedback for the service has been overwhelmingly positive, with parents regularly scoring the service five out of five, praising the speed of response along with the simple and effective advice.
A service user recently gave a rating of 5 and commented:
“I feel much more reassured that I’m doing the right things for my little one, and am much calmer about the problems I asked for advice about. The advice was specifically suggested based on the information I gave about my baby, not just generic suggestions that work for the majority of babies – if was specifically to help our situation. I now know who to contact to seek further help and feel confident to ask for help in the future should I need it.”
Southern Health’s School Nursing teams had already been using ChatHealth, so they were familiar with the system. However, Health Visitors face their own challenges and the team were keen to ensure the service was set up to not only support families but also the staff behind the service.
Liz Taylor, Associate Director for Nursing & AHP, Children’s Service, Child Health at Southern Health said:
“During our implementation of ChatHealth we really wanted to develop procedures that were robust, included regular supervision and peer reviews and offered the right amount of safeguarding for vulnerable families. At any one time, ChatHealth is staffed by two health visitors, with over 30 qualified health visitors at Southern Health now trained to use the system to pick up messages and respond to queries, with others are on the waiting list to be trained.
“All our Health Visitors talk to families about the service and what it can offer as well as providing an information sheet to parents during their first visit. However, our Health Visitors have found one of the best ways to promote the service it by simply placing a sticker on the Personal Child Health Record (known as the ‘red book’). This means the ChatHealth number is always at hand when a parent needs advice from a health visitor.”
Parents and carers have reported that texting a health visitor is a convenient way to ask simple questions that they may have forgotten or felt it was a waste of time to ask at a face-to-face appointment. Dads, who in particular are less likely to engage, feel it’s a more comfortable way to get advice. It can help vulnerable and isolated families stay in touch with health visitors as it is easier to make contact. As users can choose to send messages anonymously, it can reduce embarrassment in asking advice about sensitive or stigmatised topics such as maternal mental health.
Enabling health visitors to go digital by offering the ChatHealth text messaging service opens up better communication lines for the 20% of new mums that experience perinatal mental problems, as highlighted by the NHS Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. This improved access to help and support is now on offer to around 15,500 new mums in the UK who live in areas where health visiting messaging services have been established.