COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for healthcare services. It has seen a heroic and hugely impressive response from the NHS and the individuals and teams who work in it. As the nature and scale of the COVID-19 outbreak has become clear, THIS Institute has been in discussion with our NHS colleagues about where our research can be most useful and relevant.
One immediate challenge is the dizzying pace of innovation in every area from workflows through to technology. Some of these innovations are direct responses to the challenges presented by COVID-19. Others seek to uphold the quality and reliability of care for those whose usual care is displaced or disrupted by the crisis. Much of this innovation is occurring locally, at the sharp end of care delivery, as an ingenious response to unprecedented difficulties and levels of demand. But ensuring that best practice is identified, coordinated and implemented effectively across the health service remains a major challenge. And, inevitably, not all innovations work, and some may generate unintended consequences.
Learning about new service models, workflows and other changes will have enduring relevance long after the crisis has ended. For instance, the sudden move to remote monitoring of patients with long-term conditions in place of face-to-face outpatient appointments – forced in many places by necessity rather than design – may indeed be safe and effective, and acceptable to patients and staff. Important Health Foundation work is underway to implement and evaluate use and scaling up of outpatient video consultations, and a guide to good practice in primary care is proving very popular. But remote consultations and monitoring might also generate new risks and have unexpected downsides that could easily remain undetected for specific patient groups. Defining what good looks like for these groups and then evaluating outcomes will be key to generating the knowledge needed for making well-informed choices about quality and safety of care in the future. Many of the standard techniques of the evaluation toolkit, however, may be difficult or even impossible to deploy right now.
THIS Institute will help to address some of these problems by using innovative methods to help in the development, improvement and evaluation of new ways of delivering care. We’re currently running some test exercises to ensure we have robust methodologies that can be of direct benefit to the NHS. We’re also accelerating the launch of our new citizen science platform, Thiscovery, which will be especially important in facilitating inclusive, multi-stakeholder involvement while offering maximum flexibility and minimum burden. If you’d like to be kept informed of opportunities to contribute to these efforts, sign up using the form below this post.
Throughout the crisis, THIS Institute’s work will remain guided by the real concerns of people who work in and use the NHS. Responding to the current need will mean some activities across our existing studies will need to be hibernated until we have come out the other side. But our commitment to serving the NHS will not waver.
We salute our wonderful colleagues for the outstanding work they are doing to care for us all. Thank you each and every one.