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NHS Digital Weight Management Programme uses technology to help hard-to-reach patient groups

NHS Digital Weight Management Programme uses technology to help hard-to-reach patient groups

Home » Case studies » NHS Digital Weight Management Programme uses technology to help hard-to-reach patient groups

We strongly believe that improving patient experience is at the heart of all that we do. In creating the weight management referral hub, we have embraced a person-centred approach and designed a tool that allows patients to choose the weight management product which they feel they can connect with most successfully, and which then provides a flexible and tailored service to match their individual needs.

Background

Managing weight and reducing obesity have become major health issues in recent years and the realisation that a patient’s weight can have a major impact on their experience of – and recovery from – COVID-19 has only made the issue more pressing over the last year.

This web-based Referral Hub has been developed to give eligible patients access to tier 2 weight management services delivered digitally as part of the NHS Digital Weight Management Programme, following automated e-referral from general practice.

Action

The hub uses innovative technologies such as chatbots and a triage algorithm which identifies the appropriate level of intervention the patient will need based on their likelihood of completing the programme. It then offers a choice of providers. The patient selects a provider and the system passes across key information to enable the patient to register and get started.  

The Digital Weight Management Programme is targeted towards people with a diagnosis of diabetes or hypertension who are living with obesity (BMI 30+ adjusted appropriately for ethnicity), where we know we can have a significant impact on improving their health, reducing health inequalities and costs. It is also designed to offer effective weight management services to people with obesity and co-morbidities (diabetes and/or hypertension). 

The programme features interventions of varying intensities, delivered by commercial providers, offering tailored approaches specific to the service user, i.e. Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, men, younger people, and those from deprived communities.

Impact

Referrals are automatically generated from an electronic template, via an application programming interface, and go to the hub, which leads to swift contact with patients. Each user can access the hub via their smartphone or computer, select a provider and begin their programme. This has encouraged more patients to complete the programme and has saved time for staff in processing referrals. If additional support is required, a service user has the option to speak to a staff member within the Referral Management Centre.​

The time savings and the improved completion rate have demonstrated the value of this approach and the potential for major efficiency gains, as well as a large reduction in the amount of money spent on treatment for patients with weight management issues. It has also freed up NHS staff time to concentrate on other tasks.​

As of November 2023, the following has been achieved:

  • 122,550 patients referred to the hub this year since the 1 April 2023
  • 332,809 patients referred to the Hub since its launch in April 2021
  • We have signed up 5,093 GP practices that have made a referral to the hub, with all GP practices in England able to make referrals and take part.

The service is open to referrals from all GPs and from NHS staff, pharmacies and musculoskeletal clinicians. The longer-term plan is to allow self-referrals for all, providing eligibility criteria are met. ​

The NHS Digital Weight Management Programme’s success can be attributed not only to the excellent collaboration with NHS England but also to the dedicated and multi-disciplinary teams within NHS Midlands and Lancashire (NHS ML), including Digital Innovation, IT Development and Contracting, Referral Management, Business Intelligence, and Communications and Engagement. These teams have played a crucial role in the programme’s achievements, demonstrating a unified commitment to enhancing patient care through digital solutions.

Feedback

“Since starting work with NHS ML 18 months ago, our working relationship has flourished. Together we have embraced a true partnership working approach managed through our open and honest communication channels and also the shared goal of delivering a high quality service to our patients. NHS ML demonstrate excellence in their technical ability and business management approach and the team take a proactive problem solving approach to improving the services delivered.  We have no hesitation in continuing to work together with NHS ML.”​

Katharine Taylor, Senior Programme Manager – Obesity Lead, Prevention Programme, NHS England

“Very simplistic process and easy to follow. From what I remember it was only about 6/7 steps so very user friendly.”

“It was simple to use and and quick to use. Very easy to understand.”

“It looks great on the phone and really easy to use !!”

“All went smoothly. Received a text message, clicked the link, answered all questions through to choosing the provider, shut it down and clicked back on the link in the message. Previous answers were pre-filled, chose the provider and it said everything completed. No issues.”

Feedback from early testers

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