Ask me anything

Empowering people to ask questions in hospital appointments

With more people living with long-term health conditions than ever before, equipping people with the confidence, knowledge and skills to manage their health is essential to reduce pressure on the health service. In collaboration with Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, this project set out to identify opportunities to personalise and streamline outpatient appointments to use face-to-face time most effectively.

How might we make the most of time-limited hospital appointments to give people the confidence, knowledge and skills to manage their health?

Approach

A series of semi-structured interviews, card sorting activities and design workshops were conducted with people who have long-term health conditions. In parallel, outpatient clinics and team meetings were shadowed at St. Thomas’ Hospital to understand the competing pressures of working in a hospital environment.

Insights

- The power imbalance between medical professionals and patients is not conducive of enabling, activating and inspiring people to manage their own health

- Clinicians are extremely time poor and are resistant to the introduction of new tools and processes

- Asking questions can give improve ‘patient activation’, a measure of someone’s confidence, knowledge and skills to manage their condition

- Effective interactions between patient and clinician can lead to knowledge sharing and consequently better health outcomes

Enabling people to ask questions in hospital appointments benefits both the patient and the hospital

Enabling people to ask questions in hospital appointments benefits both the patient and the hospital

Development

Following a synthesis of insights, the project converged on a single design direction.

How might we empower people to ask questions in face-to-face hospital appointments?

The design of an online platform was outlined that would enable patients to create a shortlist of questions and share this with their clinician.

The USP of the online platform was the link with the hospital’s IT system; clinicians would see a patient’s question shortlist as they reviewed their medical record before an appointment. It was anticipated that this would enable the questions to act as the basis for discussion in the appointment itself.

Following an extremely positive reception to the platform design from the clinical team at St. Thomas’ Hospital, a paper prototype of the platform was developed to test the concept. This was piloted in six hospital clinics and yielded encouraging results: 65% of patients said they learned more about their health, and 77% of clinicians reported patients as being more engaged.

To take the proposed platform from an idea to reality it was essential to gain support from hospital staff at all levels. Over a series of months an extensive process of stakeholder engagement was undertaken: presenting the project to different hospital departments and liaising with the hospital IT and information governance teams.

The proposed platform: enabling patients to prepare a question list and send to their clinician in advance of an appointment

The proposed platform: enabling patients to prepare a question list and send to their clinician in advance of an appointment

Working with patients to populate the list of available questions

Working with patients to populate the list of available questions

Concepts for the Ask Me Anything web app

Concepts for the Ask Me Anything web app

Solution

The Ask Me Anything platform consists of a responsive web app that enables patients to send their clinician questions they’d like to ask. Before a hospital appointment the patient chooses from a list of condition-specific FAQs or composes their own questions. Then, questions are prioritised and submitted. Ask Me Anything attaches the patient's question shortlist to their electronic health record, where they can be reviewed by the clinician in advance of the upcoming appointment.

It is anticipated that this will result in confident, informed and engaged patients who are proactive in managing their health for the future.