When looking to innovate and use technology to improve efficiency, it isn’t always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking freely available tech and trialling its use with a new audience.

In early 2020, Asthma UK started an initiative to bring in a ‘new’ digital tool to help reach more beneficiaries through a different channel of their choice. At the time they were totally unaware of the rapidly approaching pandemic which would put a huge strain on medical professionals, especially those working with asthma and other lung diseases.

The introduction of a WhatsApp channel to speak directly to an Asthma nurse has attracted a new cohort of beneficiaries to engage with the Clinical team at the Asthma UK . WhatsApp allows people who potentially wouldn’t use a helpline due to disabilities, people who cannot talk via the phone as they are having a flare up, or people who are simply more aware of their breathing due to COVID 19 to speak to the team of nurses through a channel of choice at a time that suits them.

This service has shown a reduction in email traffic to the nurses, suggesting that people are more interested in having a back and forth instant messaging style conversation than a single email response.

Whilst there has not been a reduction in phone calls (quite the opposite, phone calls saw a significant increase during the first few months of the pandemic) the nurses are able to quickly respond to a few questions via WhatsApp in between phone conversations with beneficiaries, which was not possible beforehand. Thus, a significant benefit of the service is that the Clinical team are able to juggle multiple conversations, making the best use of their time and not leaving beneficiaries waiting for them to finish up their call back list or sift through their emails in order to respond to quick queries and questions.

Other benefits of the new system include

  • Clinicians being able to develop and share template responses
  • Send quick and punchy messages that signpost beneficiaries to online content or primary care
  • Share infographics and videos of inhaler techniques for people to store on their phone and refer back to
  • Give a limited out of hours service through limited automation that sends over basic resources depending on the query with a message that a nurse will be in touch on Monday or to recontact the service on the next working day.

It is also easier to use WhatsApp conversations for analysis and review of the service as they do not record voice conversations for this purpose. Thus, there are more opportunities for shared learning and training from chat histories.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, this allowed the Clinical team to massively increase the contact that they were having with beneficiaries. If they couldn’t get through all their chats, they were able to filter for COVID queries and send automatic responses signposting to webpages that were updated every day. The increase in beneficiaries reached and supported during a difficult time was the overarching benefit of this new system, however they also noticed a secondary benefit in the form of an increase in donations which are directly attributed to communications with the Clinical team. That is to say, in giving more to their beneficiaries, the organisation noticed that their beneficiaries wanted to give back to the charity

Congratulations to Asthma UK for their innovative use of everyday technology to support their beneficiaries in their time of need!