Health Call is a collaboration between seven NHS foundation trusts in the North East and North Cumbria. It develops innovative digital solutions to support clinical care and transforms existing pathways of care.

Health Call aims to design, develop and roll out digital health solutions at low cost which can then be shared within the North East and North Cumbria and beyond. This helps reduce development costs and brings tried and tested, clinically designed products to the region.

Responding to clinical need

Health Call has grown rapidly over recent years by using a regional network of clinicians. It can respond quickly to emerging needs of frontline staff and develop innovative solutions quickly.

Each new product is led by the clinician and directly relates to a real-world problem.

Share and spread philosophy

In the North East and North Cumbria, a regional licence arrangement means that once a pathway is developed for one organisation, it is made available to the rest of the region. The organisation who develops the pathway funds the initial development, and others benefit by being able to use it. This is done in collaboration so that the whole region benefits from a broad range of digital solutions.

Each of the NHS trusts in the region have developed different pathways which have been adopted and shared elsewhere. This means that operational delivery costs are reduced and Health Call customers are not charged for the initial development over and over again. Any costs incurred in rolling out existing digital pathways are kept to a minimum. It operates on minimal margins so that operational costs are covered and so the organisation can be a financially sustainable entity . By working collaboratively as a region, Health Call can buy software on behalf of the region at scale, which again, means cost savings for the region. Across the system, this helps to save money which can be invested in clinical delivery.

The region collectively saves on the development of new digital solutions, rather than having to pay for the same services over and over again. As Health Call rolls out pathways across the region, new sites benefit from the learning of the initial development. The Health Call team become more familiar with the needs of the clinicians and training materials can be shared across the region.

The first Health Call pathway

Health Call was established in 2016 initially evolving out of County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust. The trust wanted to digitise a patient pathway for people receiving anti-coagulant medication and create an INR (international normalised ratio) self-test service. It received an initial investment from the Academic Health Science Network – North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) to get this off the ground.

Anticoagulant medicines are most commonly prescribed to people who have a condition caused by a blood clot, such as deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. It may also be used by people who have had a heart attack, or atrial fibrillation which increases the risk of them developing a blood clot.

Typically, patients receiving anti-coagulants, will need to regularly attend a healthcare setting – possibly once or twice a week. Here they would have a blood test to check their INR levels so they can be assessed, and the appropriate dosage of medication prescribed.

The trust has enrolled 500 patients on the service since its inception. They can now remotely check their blood levels using a device provided. The patient then submits their reading using either an automated telephone call service, or through a web portal. Their reading is then reviewed by their clinical team who assess the feedback and provide details on the dosage for the next course of treatment and when their next screening should take place.

Since the introduction of the remote monitoring solution around 9,000 appointments are saved every year, with a potential of 18,000 car journeys. Many patients report the benefits of not having to take time off work to attend appointments which has an impact on productivity for the region. Also, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it helps reduce the risk of transmission whilst also maintaining social distancing.

How the AHSN has helped develop Health Call

The AHSN NENC played a vital role in developing Health Call and taking it from the initial stage of developing the INR pathway with one trust to one with over 30 active pathways.

It assisted Health Call with brokering, market assessment and advice, as well as securing investment into the region which supported INR testing adoption.

AHSN NENC also provided seed investment for two years which Health Call used to grow its team. This has helped it to recruit technical, project management and engagement specialists so it can share and spread innovations across the region and become financially sustainable.

Looking beyond the North East and North Cumbria

Health Call is beginning to talk to a number of CCGs and health trusts around the country about how it can develop new and share existing products. It is also working with national stakeholders like NHSX and NHS Digital so it can be listed on national frameworks.

This is another key area where the AHSN NENC has supported Health Call. They have enabled Health Call to make connections with other AHSNs across the country.

Today Health Call solutions employs over 20 people with a target turnover for 2021 of £2million.

Ian Dove, Director of Health Call said:

Without the AHSN we would not be where we are today. They have supported us with not only financial investment, but also subject matter expertise about how we form as a company, legal and intellectual property advice, but also a broker between our local trusts. As we grow and share and spread our products throughout our region and beyond, ultimately it’s our patients and clinicians who benefit as we improve pathways of care.

Dr Nicola Hutchinson, Chief Executive of the AHSN NENC said:

Health Call is a vital regional asset for the North East and North Cumbria. We recognised the value we could add with our specialist knowledge and advice and provided the investment it needed to facilitate its growth. Our role is to support healthcare outcomes and regional development so Health Call has a key role to play in helping us deliver this for our region.