Gathering information to support the rollout of Virtual Visiting
Public partners reviewed 16 NHS boards' websites in November 2020 to establish how accessible current information and resources about Virtual Visiting were to patients and members of the public.
During the COVID-19 pandemic visiting to all hospitals was suspended, except in end-of-life and other exceptional circumstances. For most people who have had to stay in hospital during the pandemic restrictions, this meant they had no visitors. Without access to a mobile phone, tablet or other device, they were unable to keep in touch with friends and family.
Research shows that having visitors in hospital brings positive outcomes for people, such as improved recovery times and shorter stays. It provides comfort to people in hospital and to their friends and family at home. It is an important way of reducing anxiety for both, staying in touch and helping people to recover as quickly as possible.
For these reasons, over the last year NHS boards have been introducing Person-centred Virtual Visiting to help people keep in touch with loved ones. There are different ways in which Virtual Visiting has been happening across Scotland and in July 2020 we carried out a scoping exercise to find out how it is being implemented in different NHS boards and in different inpatient wards. This included identifying any potential gaps, barriers or inequalities that may exist so that support could be offered and improvements made.
As part of the scoping exercise, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) public partner volunteers were asked to review information on 16 NHS boards' websites during November 2020. Public partners get involved in HIS to provide a public perspective on our work. They are one of the range of ways in which we involve people to ensure our work is person-centred. 8 public partners volunteered to help with this part of the scoping exercise by establishing how accessible current virtual visiting information and resources were to patients and members of the public.
One of the recommendations to NHS boards following the scoping exercise was that they should provide clear information to in-patients and their friends and families about Virtual Visiting. Initially a core group of public partner volunteers developed a set of questions and guidance for the website review exercise, working with the HIS Person-centred Virtual Visiting project team.
There was a high level of interest from our public partners as most knew of someone who had been in hospital during the pandemic and had some awareness of the impact restrictions were having on visiting, the isolation and communication challenges being experienced. Each of our 8 volunteers looked at 2 NHS board websites in their home. They each used the same set of questions to record their observations on how easy it was to navigate the websites.
Their website review exercise showed Virtual Visiting is taking place in most of the 16 NHS boards, and that website information had been updated to reflect this. They found areas for improvement around easier links, provision of basic information and more straightforward instructions.
The following recommendations were made for NHS boards' websites:
- Provide an explanation of what Virtual Visiting is on the homepage and provide a clear link for access from there.
- Ensure Virtual Visiting information can be found using search functions.
- Use clear, plain and consistent language that can be understood by all.
- Make provision for some information to be available in other languages or formats on the Virtual Visiting landing page, such as the ability to request information in an alternative format.
- Where possible, provide a specific point of contact for people to request and access Virtual Visiting.
We have shared these recommendations with NHS boards to enable them to consider the findings and make improvements. The Person-centred Virtual Visiting project team will also make sure any actions that can be taken forward nationally are considered within the next phase of the rollout of Virtual Visiting to continue to develop the support for people in hospital to keep in touch with friends and family.
Being a public partner with Healthcare Improvement Scotland is one of many ways that people volunteer and contribute their support to NHS Scotland. During this volunteer week (1 to 7 June 2021) we are pleased to share this example to show the real difference our public partner volunteers make to Healthcare Improvement Scotland's work. Thank you to all our public partner volunteers who have stuck with us and continued to contribute during this particularly challenging year.