New co-designed automated telephony service to support children & complex wheelchair users

Contact&Connect is an automated telephony service that can be deployed to regularly call service users receiving any social care service. Two weeks ago, our first Contact&Connect: Wheelchair service went live, supporting both children and complex wheelchair users in Sunderland. The calls have been carefully scripted to help organise and collect information for the annual reviews of approximately 4,000 children and complex wheelchair users. (An additional 6,000 adult wheelchair users already receive automated calls from the Contact&Connect: Community Loan Equipment service, which has been successfully running in the city for nearly two years).

Sunderland Wheelchair Service (SWS) had several key drivers for the new Wheelchair service:
– A desire to be “ahead of the curve” and operate in a more preventative space.
– The ability to identify any health issues the wheelchair may be causing the person, of which they might be unaware.
– Specifically regarding children, SWS recognises that unpredictable growth patterns can result in children outgrowing their chairs more quickly than expected, so monitoring this was seen as highly valuable.
– Parents often do not realise that the wheelchair is becoming too small or is not meeting their child’s needs until it is too late, which can have adverse effects on the child.
– Lastly, supporting contract management with complex wheelchair providers in terms of the length of wheelchair delivery.

The calls specifically for Children’s Wheelchairs are part of a holistic new approach co-designed with SWS’s parent group, one element of which is that reviews can take place in school if requested. To support this new model, the scripts focus on both the organisation of the review and collecting information about the wheelchair user to facilitate a more in-depth and personal review.

The Contact&Connect technology is highly flexible, and in these Wheelchair services, several new features were deployed, along with a more complex call configuration than usual. Initially, we had to define who would be receiving the calls. In the case of children, it would be the parent, and for Complex Wheelchair users, it is a combination of the service user or an advocate. Our first task was to work with Sunderland to ensure we had robust data so that when the call was answered, it would address the right person and provide accurate context for the call.

In other Contact&Connect services, calls are usually around 2 minutes long, with 5 or 6 questions. However, in the case of the Wheelchair services, and due to the comprehensive nature of the review process, there are up to 15 questions. These questions cover topics such as mobility at home and in school, aspirations, whether the chair allows them to do everything they would like, whether wheelchair users have needed to see a district nurse or had pressure sores (both potential signs of outgrowing their chair), questions about comfort, positioning, and whether the chair is still in good working order.

All of these questions contribute to the review process, benefiting both the parent/advocate or complex wheelchair user and SWS. From the perspective of parents/advocates or complex wheelchair users, being asked these questions prior to the review prompts active thinking and better preparedness for the discussion. From the perspective of SWS, being pre-informed means that potential options can be considered before the review, leading to a more personalised approach.

Although it is still early in terms of the calls (the service has been live for only three weeks), the Contact&Connect: Wheelchair service has already helped prioritise those individuals who require a review and identified those who do not need one. One-third of all respondents deferred their reviews, reducing pressure on the team and helping prioritise those in most need. The questions have also revealed that the main issue for children needing a review is mobility, found that comfort is the main concern among all wheelchair users, and identified eight people whose wheelchairs are not in good working order.

In the autumn, we will share more in-depth data based on three months or more of the service being live and hold discussions regarding its impact on families, review processes, and SWS more broadly. However, if you would like to review a Contact&Connect: Wheelchair script or discuss the service in more detail, please get in touch.