CONNECTPlus app supporting patient care through digital technology

Torbay Weekly

Rian Penford is a rheumatology specialist nurse at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. As a result of her work codeveloping the CONNECTPlus app, which supports patients to better manage their condition at home, Rian is a two-time Nursing Award finalist for 2020 and 2021. This week, Rian shares with us the impact that the CONNECTPlus app has had on patient care and experience in rheumatology and more widely throughout the trust.

In Torbay and South Devon we have a long history of working in partnership to innovate and to integrate services around the needs of the whole person.

We recognise that, in many areas, digital innovation offers the best way for us to improve timeliness and quality of care, while enabling our clinicians to make best use of their time.

The CONNECTPlus app is a fantastic example of this, and comes as a result of our clinical teams working in partnership with Health and Care Innovations (HCI).

The app helps people with, often multiple, long-term conditions to manage their health.

It gives them confidence to live their lives to the full and empowers them to seek expert help when they need it, and it also frees them up from a constant stream of hospital appointments.

CONNECTPlus has a dual aim of improving the patient experience and freeing up clinicians’ limited time to spend with people who are most in need of their expert input.

Following the initial launch in rheumatology, the app was downloaded more than 1,800 times.

In the traditional clinic environment, patients receive a diagnosis and lots of information, which they often struggle to remember as they are shocked by learning that they have a lifelong, life-changing condition.

Information booklets that are given out are easily misplaced, which results in nurses staffing the rheumatology helpline receiving a significant number of follow-up calls.

Now, people are signposted to the app, which contains all the information they need and is verified by the clinical staff they trust.

This has resulted in a significant fall in calls to the rheumatology helpline, and greater compliance with drug regimens.

Early evaluation has shown a reduction in rheumatology-related appointments of up to 50 per cent, and seven hours of weekly nursing time released from our education programme for patients being prescribed new medications.

Patients quickly become better-informed and more aware of their condition through using the app, and know when to seek help – for example when having a flare-up.

We are hearing from our patients that they appreciate having all the resources they need close at hand, in one place, and available at all times.

This provides reassurance and enables people to have more confidence in managing their conditions, because it keeps them connected to their clinicians – and often to each other via support groups.

The reduced need for appointments saves people travelling costs and time.

Staff report that they are better able to manage the structure and flow of clinics, because they know that the patients coming in to clinic are better-informed and really do need to be there.

The app is constantly developing with more conditions planned to be added. We are aiming is to add 15 further conditions across multiple pathways.

This means that patients and colleagues in departments such as cardiology, hip and knee pathways, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, respiratory and diabetes will be making use of this fantastic resource.

In August, we were delighted with the news that our entry for the CONNECTPlus app had been shortlisted for the driving efficiency through technology award at the HSJ Awards 2021.

‘CONNECTPlus: Reducing demand through empowering patients with multiple long-term conditions to self-manage’ is going up against some great entries, and it is fantastic that our application has been shortlisted in a highly competitive field.

This accolade highlights the clearly evidenced impact that technology is having on improving patient experiences and empowering them to seek the help they need.

It is great recognition for the hard work of our teams which has taken us this far, and this has been achieved thanks to partnership working with creative digital experts in HCI.

The full list of nominees for the HSJ Awards 2021 can be found on the HSJ website, and we all look forward to the selected winners being announced during the awards ceremony at Evolution, London on Thursday, November 18.

My rheumatology colleagues and I are also thrilled to have been shortlisted for a prestigious Nursing Times award for the second year running for our work on the CONNECTPlus app.

The awards will be taking place on Saturday, November 27 - we have our fingers crossed for further success!