The Healthier Together programme is an integrated, UK wide approach to improve outcomes for children and their families.
By adopting an evidence based approach the programme promotes consistency and confidence to parents and healthcare professionals, whilst reducing pressures on the healthcare system.
Dr Sanjay Patel, a consultant in paediatric infectious diseases working at Southampton Children’s hospital began research in Wessex with both parents and healthcare professionals back in 2015.
The results of the survey highlighted key issues with the delivery of healthcare to children across the region, including a lack of consistency in the management of children across the urgent care pathway, an absence of standardised online or paper-based resources for parents and carers about common illnesses and when/where to seek help.
In order to address these issues, parents, carers, young people and health professionals were all involved in the co-design of the programme, promoting the concept of a community initiative. Winning hearts and minds would ensure ownership and a collective interest in the success of the project.
The following core objectives of the programme were agreed; that parents should feel empowered about whether or not they need to seek the advice of a healthcare professional, that users of healthcare services should receive consistent and appropriate advice and to be clearly signposted to appropriate healthcare services. To achieve this, a user friendly and engaging public facing website and app was required for parents, young people and healthcare professional to interact with.
An iterative design process was run with Frank, a leading digital healthcare provide to consult widely with parents, users and experts by experience to define a simple user journey and the quick and concise delivery of information required. It was clear from the Parents/Carers that they didn’t just want another text-heavy website; they wanted image-led, colour-coded and simple-to-follow advice. They wanted education on common illnesses and consistent advice from health professionals. Should there be a medical emergency, the ability to look at something quickly and make a snap decision was paramount.
For healthcare professionals, they wanted standardised resources that all GPs and Paediatricians were using, so there is consistency of message to parents. This included resources such as clinical pathways and safety netting.
The Healthier Together website was launched in spring 2016 and the programme has been both successful quantitatively with website hits up 1000% a year since inception.
- GP presentation rates (age 0-18 years) reduced by 10%
- Emergency admission rates (age 0-18 years) reduced by 14%
- Primary Care referrals to outpatients (age 0-18 years) are down on average 12%
Qualitatively, behaviour has changed for all stakeholders as parents now using Healthier Together resources to determine if they need to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. For clinicians it has provided the confidence of standardised, up-to-date resources and sources for further advice.
Ultimately the direct impact of the programme has been an improvement in the quality of care and a lower cost through the reduction in urgent care activity.
The success of the programme in Wessex has been observed by other integrated care systems (ICS) in the UK, who all face the same challenges of improving health outcomes for children and families across their footprints.
Dr Sanjay Patel recognised that the content on the website that they had painstakingly put together over a number of years would be readily portable to other regions. From Sanjay perspective this intellectual property was funded and owned by the NHS and he wanted to make it freely available to any ICS who wanted it.
Frank have since delivered several sites, by duplicating the original website but with logos and templates adjusted to match local branding (which parents and families trust).
In all, the Healthier Together Programme is currently supporting the families of over 2 million children across the UK.
A national meeting is now to be held every quarter, virtually for now, where all the Healthier Togethers can talk about the programme in their region and offer help and guidance to each other, the last time developing clinical lead roles was a topic of discussion.
Frank are there also to make sure all the Healthier Together platforms are aware of each other’s functionality and understand any new requirements or ideas that could be developed and the cost burden shared.
The Healthier Together programme was awarded Highly Commended for the Paediatric Care Initiative of the Year category at the HSJ Value Awards in 2021.