Why technology development should involve practitioners

Mark Raeburn, managing director at OLM, which provides a single software and service platform, Eclipse, that meets the challenges of the care and health sectors, voices why getting practitioners involved in technology development ensures solutions are fit for purpose.

Our target was to create something that the target audience wants to use and that enables them to deliver outstanding care. This target sounds simple enough, but is often missed by software companies. For us to get this right we knew we needed to invest in next generation technology and listen to the feedback of the practitioners.

For too long the experience of software used at work has been behind the experience at in home life as software companies supporting health and social care are focused on shareholder profitability rather than investing in the latest technology to create the best user experience possible.

That is not the OLM way and in more than 28 years of operation, we have sought to remain independent and create and invest in technology that solves problems, not creates them.  We spoke with users working in the care environment and understood their struggles. It was clear all the software available was not user friendly, or agile to changing requirements. This is why we set about redeveloping our technology stack five years ago.

We saw the rise in Cloud native technology and recognised it would create greater efficiencies and be able to deliver a user experience like they were used to using in their home life.

At the time we had been in the industry for just shy of 25 years and were known by local authorities up and down the UK. They were our partners and it was important to involve local authorities in the creation of a new technology platform as they would be the ones to use it. A series of focus groups were organised that addressed the question, ‘What is missing (if anything) from your current technology platform?’

From these focus groups, common themes were discovered:

  • ‘I need to duplicate a lot of the information I write’
  • ‘The system requires me to click around to record all the information’
  • ‘I have to come back to the office to type up my notes’
  • ‘The system does not reflect the way we want to work’
  • ‘Software was siloed and collaborative working was difficult’
  • ‘Separate systems across Adult Social Care and Children’s Social Care making transition difficult’
  • ‘Easily being able to tell and understand the story and journey of a client’
  • ‘System timeouts and poor performance at times of high usage’ 

All of the these points reflected what we thought, and the inclusion of independent social workers to focus groups served to further emphasise these aspects. A new generation of technology was needed for the industry in order to create efficiencies and give time back to social workers.

The journey starts with case management

Where to begin this new journey? With data of course. We will all cross paths with health and social care at one point in our lives. The more that can be captured at these interactions, the better, as it creates a complete picture of the person. This reduces repetition and helps social workers identify the best plan based on all of the information.

From a technology point of view, case management information is the hub. It is crucial that a local authority gets this component correct; it must be collaborative and open to enable services to be modernised, bringing in other key players in the care ecosystem.

Built with the needs of the worker in mind

Gone are the days when technology could be an afterthought. It is so entrenched in our lives that it is now an essential requirement. Systems that require healthcare users to log in and out every few minutes in order to access the different programmes should be a thing of the past, as should recording on paper.

To overcome these issues, we created the Eclipse Software platform to make a difference and address the concerns levied to us by social workers.

First and foremost, social workers have large workloads and therefore, Eclipse is designed to reduce administration, prioritise and manage workloads and be accessible from anywhere, at any time.

These simple changes in working process enables workers to transform the way they work and record on the go from any device. It also enables person-centred care, and allows social workers to break the chains keeping them at their desks.

Another key change that we utilise with our software is that healthcare professionals are able to utilise intuitive forms and workflows. These speed up processes by reducing the amount of forms and transferring between screens that social workers for instance need to complete. They can have multiple cases open, with home screens being able to keep track of where each case is, to avoid confusion and duplication.

Adaptable to deal with new ways of working

Eclipse is a great user experience, but we understood for a system to be suitable for the care sector it would have to be agile and adaptable. As an example, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, went live with the system earlier this year, going from contract signature to live in less than six months. We also co-produced their forms and processes to reduce the number of forms; creating further efficiencies though a system that was designed for them, with them.

Before the project began, we worked directly with the Trust through a series of collaborative, discovery workshops to develop the best configuration for the 0-19 Service. This new service was looking to move from a paper-based recording system to an electronic system to bring the Trust in line with the NHS Long Term Plan.

Roz Geary, ICT project manager of The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust was part of the discovery workshops and said: “OLM challenged our thinking and let us understand the power of next-generation technology. We were able to have open discussions about what we felt was best practice and they listened to our ideas and we listened to how they felt technology could support us best.

“At the start of the workshop sessions, we were trying to recreate paper forms on IT and believed we would need over 20 different forms per visit. In the end, we reduced this significantly and the form lengths were reduced due to the forms pulling through known information. At the end of the discovery days, OLM came quickly back to us with a working prototype.”

By using the new forms and new ways of working, The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust secured efficiencies of up to 70 hours a day.

Person-centred technology to enable efficiency savings

By working with users, it is possible to create technology that is fit for purpose. To do otherwise would be to waste the money of organisations that are already struggling under budget cuts. OLM has been dedicated to making a difference since day one and will continue to make solutions that are fit for purpose not just for today, but for the foreseeable future too; something which all technology providers across the health and social care sector must strive for.

Building technology around the users ensures that pain points are solved, and time is given back to the worker. Whether that is in a care, health, educational or social care setting, time is the most precious asset and technology that provides additional time is priceless. Person-centred technology is the answer to the problems created by government austerity. It frees workers from their desks and shapes itself around them, facilitating access from anywhere, at any time.


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