When life went abruptly online in 2020, the lines between home, school, work and essential services blurred - an incredible and unexpected shift that’s bringing challenges for many, along with positive change.
One of those essential services is health. Speeding up the pace of progress, the pandemic is ushering in a new era for health services in the UK, in which millions are engaging digitally with NHS services for the first time.
A digital-first COVID-19 testing service and the move to online GP consultations are helping to create a new kind of health service for the decisive decade, in which physical and online interactions are accepted elements of the same mix.
Crucially, engagement with health services at this scale provides insight into creating inclusive digital systems that have users’ needs at their core. And a sharp focus on how best to help people of all abilities, locations and access (or lack thereof) to computers or mobile phones is setting the standard for services designed to make sure no one is left behind.
In digital healthcare, the needs of the pandemic made a lot of things happen at speed that we hadn’t thought possible.
Digital healthcare – advancing at speed
As part of a collaboration with the Government, the NHS, NHS Digital and 40 other public and private organisations, Deloitte played a vital role in the rapid build of a UK testing system – its daily capacity has grown from 2,000 swab tests in March 2020 to a million lab and rapid tests today.
As Deloitte’s Kasia Zan explains: “In digital healthcare, the needs of the pandemic made a lot of things happen at speed that we hadn’t thought possible.
“In normal times, many digital services are often built as a prototype, tested and made ‘live’ over the course of many weeks or months. We had to get the test-booking website up and running in a matter of days.”
A digital ‘user experience’ (UX) designer who describes her approach as ‘user-centred - from the ground up’, Kasia and her team helped designed the COVID-19 test-booking system that’s enabled over 253 million tests to be conducted across the UK.
Keeping it simple for users
“I’ve always been fascinated by how deeply understanding the needs and mindsets of our users helps to improve adoption of digital services. Digital is helping to change for the better how people engage with health services,” said Kasia.
Following a mantra of ‘keeping it simple for the user’, Kasia and a team of experts from NHS Digital and Deloitte built in inclusivity from the start, drawing on surveys, interviews and a panel of participants – 10,000 in fact, reflecting the diversity of the UK’s population - to get a good mix of people’s views and thoughts on what needed to be included within the digital services that enabled public COVID-19 testing.
It was just the start of a continuous feedback process, through which the team reacted quickly to user data and the changes presented by a novel virus.
Over a million survey responses from the public were instrumental in helping the team maintain the tricky balance between helping people to move through the steps to book a test as directly as possible, whilst balancing the need to capture data for various public health authorities to track and manage the spread of the disease.
The results speak for themselves
“We’re proud that the system has hit satisfaction scores of 4.1 out of 5,” said Kasia, who describes her most humbling moments on the project as hearing people talk about their own experiences.
“Getting tested isn’t the most pleasant experience, especially for those dealing with challenging circumstances. Feedback from someone who had a good experience, for example easily getting an urgent test for their toddler, made me feel like all the work was worth it.”
We designed the Be My Eyes platform to help address day-to-day challenges that the blind and low vision communities face. Making COVID home tests accessible takes our work to another level, demonstrating the intersection of technology, public health, and accessibility, and it's something we're proud to be a part of.
CCO, Be My Eyes
“Designing inclusively means creating a system that can meet the needs of people with disabilities and other access needs,” Kasia continued, “and this also evolved over time.”
The first pandemic in over 100 years generated several important firsts. One was enabling people without access to digital devices to book or order their tests and putting stringent security and privacy measures in place to enable people to get their results on the phone via the 119 assisted service. Deloitte developed the 119 call centre administrator software to enable this.
A team effort led by Deloitte’s customer strategy and inclusive design team, charity partners, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) led to important changes to help those with visual impairments to use home testing kits. Studies with blind and partially-sighted people and groups first helped to determine how those with visual impairments could best access tests.
Following trials, changes were made to test-kit packaging to make box assembly easier when returning samples, and providing instructions in braille, audio and large print format. And a partnership with the Be My Eyes app introduced the option of a live video assistant who acts as a guide during the home-testing process.
Deloitte’s Susan McDonald, who led on the studies and whose team helped shape and design the home test service improvements, added: “We and the charity partners shared the vision that the design and creation processes should start with inclusive design. We worked in partnership to improve accessibility of the service to ensure it served those with visual impairments, disabilities, the digitally excluded, and non-English speakers.”
RNIB’s Michael Wordingham said: “We were pleased to be given the opportunity to work so closely with the team at Deloitte and DHSC to design and run trials to improve the accessibility of the home testing service. We hope that this form of co-design will serve as a model way of working for future projects to ensure accessibility is built in from the start.”
Be My Eyes app CCO Alexander Hauerslev Jensen explained: "We designed the Be My Eyes platform to help address day-to-day challenges that the blind and low vision communities face. Making COVID home tests accessible takes our work to another level, demonstrating the intersection of technology, public health, and accessibility, and it's something we're proud to be a part of."
Over a year on...
Looking at the events of the last year, Deloitte’s UK head of healthcare Sara Siegel sees an opportunity to cement the extraordinary progress they have made in digital transformation in the past year.
“If I could hope for one positive legacy from the pandemic, a heartbreaking experience for millions of people, it would be for UK healthcare to take advantage of all the gains it has made from a digital adoption perspective. For example, the integration of NHS Login into the testing service increased adoption of a digital NHS account by three million in the first two weeks of release.”
For Kasia and the team, who remain motivated by knowing the difference they have made to curbing the pandemic, looking to the future means building on what they’ve learned this year and applying inclusive design principles on further health projects.
“It’s not every day that a digital designer gets to say, ‘we’re helping to save lives’.”
George Parrett, PR senior manager
+44 20 7007 7285 | Email George