As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, it was promised that there would be 1,000 link workers to bridge the gap between people with health conditions and the local services that can help them to live happier and healthier lives. Their role is to connect people with services in their community, also known as ‘social prescribing’, to help individuals develop skills and build resilience to deal with their long term conditions and other personal circumstances.
Take this as an example: a patient is diagnosed by their GP with type 2 diabetes, who will then prescribe them insulin. They can then also refer them to a link worker, who signposts that person to a healthy cookery workshop to help them to better manage their condition alongside their medication. The GP is able to fulfil their role as a medical practitioner and provide the necessary care, and the link worker is able to provide the patient with non-medical tools to assist with their condition management.
So, what are we trying to do? At Healum, we are committed to unlocking the true power of link workers by providing them with the tools that help them deliver the best possible service to individuals. That way, we can increase the chance that people have the right opportunity, motivation and capability to enact meaningful behaviour change. In partnership with Sport England and London Sport, we helped link workers at Bromley-by-Bow Centre to signal individuals to local services to support their long term health conditions. We did this by utilising open data to provide a holistic picture of available local services, which is updated in real time. This has been made possible by our partnership with the Open Data Institute, who have been working on the Open Active project to connect people to services with us since 2017.
We identified three major problems facing link workers: lack of visibility over the availability of resources, lack of information on the location of resources, and managing cases with limited access to technology. Often link workers resort to using search engines or just word of mouth to identify relevant services for their referrals. To remedy this, we built a traffic light system into our platform, signalling the availability of all the services in an area. A green activity meant that the service had been updated in the last 30 days, and red any time after that. This gave link workers a comprehensive picture of services that were currently active, so less time was wasted trying to find out if a service was running, or worse still, sending someone off with information about a resource that no longer exists. This became particularly important through the pandemic as many in-person services were paused due to lockdowns and social distancing.
Secondly, by making the most of open data, we integrated our platform with Google Maps so that link workers had visibility of where these available services were located. This way, individuals who had been referred were able to put the directions in their smartphone and were taken directly to their destination. This helped to improve the uptake of services with fewer barriers for individuals.
By using open data, we have been able to connect more people with services and resources that they can use in real time. For us, open data is in the public interest. It enables us to deliver more joined up services that make a direct impact on people’s quality of life, as we have seen through this partnership. We also wanted to make sure that availability of technology didn’t impact the availability of opportunities for people with long term conditions, so for those who did not have access to a smartphone, we also provided paper copies of resources to ensure the solution was as digitally inclusive as possible.
What this joint project revealed was just how important open data is to ensure that people have access to the right health services at the right time so they can live the happiest and healthiest lives. Open data is a public good, and should be treated as such. In this case, we were able to support link workers to deliver their services in a far more streamlined way, connecting people with resources when they need them which is ultimately how we can start to deliver personalised care. By delivering more bespoke services, which is enabled through the open use of data, we can increase the chance of promoting positive behaviour change.