Marc Beswick is an Occupational Therapist and currently the National Lead for the Near Me Network. Here Marc offers his insights into one of the most remarkable transformations in health care and the key role Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) played.
The use of the Near Me video system, which links patients, care home residents and carers to health and social care staff, was rapidly scaled up at the outbreak of the pandemic to reduce the need for face-to-face appointments. Now, a Report published on 23 March 2021 by experts from Oxford University has concluded that using the technology has helped to reduce the risk of infection and allowed for continued service provision in the face of all the challenges imposed by Covid-19. It follows hot on the heels of the Scottish Government’s Chief Medical Officers Annual Report ‘Recover, Restore and Renew’, where Dr Gregor Smith commented:
“The speed at which Near Me has been adopted brings me great hope for the future. It is a fantastic example of Realistic Medicine in practice, demonstrating that improvement and innovation can support delivery of more personalised care.”
One of the driving forces behind Near Me being offered as a choice has been Allied Health Professions (AHPs). They embraced the use of technology as they saw it as a person-centred way of delivering services both during a pandemic and into the future.
It is almost a year now since the NHS Education for Scotland AHP Practice Education team ran their first webinars for AHPs to support them with using Near Me. These initial nine webinars were attended by over 3,600 people and the recordings were viewed 5,500 times (Holdsworth et al, 2020).
The impact of this has been incredible with AHPs consistently in the top five for total Near Me use across the whole of Scotland at around 15 percent of Near Me appointments a month (see poster below). Moreover, the feedback is impressive with 98% of people who have used Near Me stating they would choose it again.
As a clinician seeing people face to face is an important and valued part of our role and there will always remain a need for this interaction with patients. I would challenge AHPs, however, to ask themselves whose need is the face to face appointment always meeting – the professional or the patient? If we approach this in a person-centred way, we should be offering patients informed choice of what works for them and their circumstances.
Covid-19 exposed wider challenges of accessing services and it became obvious that Near Me could have a much wider application. It was for this reason the Scottish Government has extended the free licence across all third and public sector. We are now seeing it being used by Citizens Advice Bureaux, Housing Association, and local authorities.
It is true that not everyone has the digital literacy skills, devices, connectivity, or a private space to have an appointment in this way. Through our national public and staff engagement, Equality Impact Assessment and Independent Evaluations we now understand a lot more about some of the universal barriers as well as the benefits. The Scottish Government in collaboration with others is working hard on all fronts to address such barriers. One of the likely advances will be the emergence of community hubs to enable people to access services by Near Me close to home.
My hope is that as more and more AHPs continue to use Near Me this will create a ripple effect to colleagues in other professions routinely offering video appointments and indeed patients requesting it. We now have an opportunity to embed Near Me as a choice for patients and public on how they interact with our services.
Finally thank you to all the AHPs that have embraced Near Me!