Service Design in health and social care, using a systems thinking approach
The Problem to Solve
Taking care of people, their health and welfare needs, their social issues, and their relationships. This has to be one of the most complex systems that anyone can work in. Especially as this has to include the community and family circumstances, as well as the individual.
In England we have made it particularly complex, by the way government has seen fit to design the overall health and social care system. By fragmenting the various 'services' and privatise provision, this has unleashed forces that guide the behaviour of a miriad of organisations with different competencies and rules.
A systems approach is particularly apt to make sense of this complexity. It strips out the artificial barriers that are put in the way of doing the right thing, and allows a design of an effective system to emerge.
Many authorities are now experimenting with integrated working. The government and the NHS have recognised that the way forward is more integrated care. Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) drawn up by eath authority are now focusing on transformation and localisation of care.
Personalisation, patient centered, community, integration, community assets, key worker... They are all pushing against the monolithic approach of treating everyone the same. Now that this approach has proven itself, lets get going with what we have learned works.
Increasing demand into the health system, and signs of increasing waste in processes has been a factor in public healthcare for a number of years now. In particular, there has been a recent awareness amongst managers that the servcice that was being delivered was not a good service.
To create an example of what is possible if the system is completely redesigned from a different perspective; eliminating the major barriers to effective working.
A full-time team was put together of all the disciplines required to deal with citizens who have community health needs. The team included an operational as well as a senior manager, and the team had direct links with the hospital, GPs and specialist health services.
The service as it was
What was found
The team found that the current system was very inefficient and ineffective. This was characterised by high levels of waste in the operations. But more importantly, the citizen was being taken through a series of rule driven complicated steps, that that did not contribute to dealing effectively with the persons problems.
The managers realised that they were partially responsible for this situation as they had put in a series of assessments and rules that were designed to help staff to follow a standard process, to reduce risk, and to minimise cost. Those in the work were bombarded with increasing levels of demands on their time, creating a highly stressful and activity focused mindset, resulting in low morale and a personal distancing from what really mattered to patients.
It was realised that citizens core issues were often not resolved until too late, resulting in months or years of unnecessary treatments. Citizens would bounce around the public health system with little progress of improvement to their overall lives.
Applying a systems thinking perspective to this problem
The team took 35 demands from end to end, and focused on the needs of the citizen by applying a set of new operating principles to each person. This allowed the team to learn how to approach and deal with people in a way that focused on getting them back to a stable and healthy state. The barriers to making this happen had to be temporarily suspended, as were any time or other restrictions.
They were so conditioned by rules, that the team were surprised at how difficult it was to learn how to actually listen and understand someone's life context free of pre-determined structures.
Step 1 Understand me & what matters to me
Each team member took the demands, and the first step was always to understand the nature of why the person had come to them in the first place. In most cases this required a visit, that continued until they developed a level of trust and got to learn clearly the circumstances about that person.
Understand each person in their environment and those around them.
Step 2 Decide the best agreed course of action
This is about assessing the whole situation of the person, their environment, and their friends and family. In the majority of cases what was required had little to do with clinical help. There were few restrictions placed on the team, and they were able to pull on any of the clinical expertise from anyone in their team if needed.
Step 3 Keep ownership, and maintain the person to get back into balance
We are engaging with them and are directly available at the end of the phone if required. Whatever the team think needs recording is written down. This is where we don't simply close the case, we ensure that they have got to a place of stability.
Step 4 Close
We close the case when we have agreed that we have provided enough support. If they contact us again, the same team member is assigned the case again.
The new Design
The actual purpose of the service that the managers focus on, then drives that which the staff focus on. Subsequently, the measures follow thta purpose to ensure that the purpose is achieved.
The purpose of a service is often never truly described openly.
And if the services are redesigned around this new purpose, what do you think will happen? What will happen to costs?
As an example, this is what we found about one of the people, Anne
My problem – I have complications with my wrists, and everything I touch feels hot. It is a condition that is not curable.
What matters to me - I need help to live as normal life as much as possible. I need help dressing, cleaning the house and cooking.
The solution was not in fixing her chronic condition, it was actually about helping her to continue to live her life as normal as possible. What we provided was adaptations and advice.
We also found a teenager who lived neardy that needed help with her reading and writing, which Anne was very happy to help with, in exchange for the teen helping around the house with cleaning.
Before we tookthis case on Anne had been bouncing around the service with five referrals that had no meaningful impact over two years.
This was a typical case that would bounce round the community health office, and over time the service user would either make repeated demands, or lose interest and stop connecting with the health service. A typical failed outcome that shows how we can spend lots of time going round in circles.
It's tempting to view this experiment work as simply introducing a 'single point of contact', or a 'multi-disciplinary hub', or 'sharing data'.
The reality is that the real change is in the thinking and approaches of those in the new system, in Anne's case above, one person actually did most of the value work with a new decicion framework and the ability to make local decisions.
It took senior managers to give the team permission to avoid what we needed to:
The summary of all the cases taken in the experiment
All the demands taken were complex, highlighting the fact that a flexible and non-standard design of the work should be the norm.
By getting good understanding, and work with the cases end to end, we reduced repeat demands into the service from 71% to almost 0%.
Leadership and management
The effect on the team
The team developed a new way of working together, that allowed them to be open and honest with each other.
In this health system, services like this develop such waste and poor outcomes due to the functional nature and standardisation of the flow of work. The learning from a managers perspective, was that if they truly looked at their service end to end, and that by understanding that the real demand and what matters to people should drive the work that we need to do. So, unless the systemic problems were redesigned, no amount of changing of rules, procedures, or IT system results in real sustained improvement
Delivering care across existing systems will be a key development for the future of service delivery and evidence suggests that a “systems thinking approach” will be required to understand the environment and the complex interactions within it.
Commissioning for Effective Service Transformation, NHS England