How Microsoft Teams can support your clinical practice during the pandemic

Dr Sarah Blackstock

As a paediatric registrar, communication with patients and colleagues is a critical part of my job.  

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic felt like a roller coaster of uncertainty. How we delivered clinical care changed rapidly. Despite the many challenges, using technology to communicate virtually with colleagues and patients has also provided some opportunities. I am a real advocate of using new technology when it adds value and whilst there are many unknowns and pain points I believe that it can also allow us to provide care more compassionately at scale.

As we find ourselves in another lockdown facing increased pressure on the frontline, I thought it would be useful to share some case studies and examples of how Microsoft Teams can support your clinical practice. Some of these can be quickly and easily adopted by you and your teams. 

Secure clinical communication

The national rollout of MS Teams has given NHS staff a secure tool for instant messaging, video conferencing, sharing clinical information, images, and more. You can use it on laptops and mobile phones, which makes it handy for use on the go. 

Before I begin: You might find your organisation has chosen to use alternative software that’s similar to Teams, or that your local version of Teams doesn’t have all the functionality I refer to. If that’s the case you may need to work with your IT team to understand what’s available to you. You should also check your local security arrangements for using Teams when sharing clinical data.

Virtual multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings 

In paediatrics, we routinely come together as a range of professionals to make holistic decisions for the children we care for. Because of the pandemic, we had to drastically change how we did this. My team set up MDTs virtually which allowed attendance of colleagues who were shielding, self isolating, or working remotely if they were not needed on the ward. 

The team at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have also shown the benefits of this (see section titled ‘Screen Sharing’). They used screen-sharing over MS Teams to share access to internal systems, saving 48 hours of clinical and service manager time, and 504 miles of travel. This equates to £340 travel savings in a year with just a single MDT meeting flow. 

It’s great to see other care settings also embracing this kind of tech. Havering care homes are using MS Teams for MDT meetings with clinical staff, and allowing a ‘community of care homes’ to come together and share ideas whilst caring for some of the most vulnerable patients in the community in the pandemic and keep them safe.

Virtual patient consultations

One of the biggest changes to my working practice as a registrar has been the introduction of remote outpatient clinics - I can’t believe how quickly this way of communicating changed in the first wave.

The Speech and Language Therapy team at Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust have shown real value in delivering therapy to people in their own homes, virtually, during the pandemic. Patients reported that they feel much more comfortable taking part in speech therapy sessions from home, without the need to travel to and enter a clinical environment. The team also set up a peer support channel to allow knowledge sharing internally.

Here’s some tips and considerations on virtual consultations which you might find useful for MS Teams or other video conferencing software:

For me these articles highlight that there are differences to face to face appointments that you may need to take into consideration so that patients' needs are met in a safe and effective way.

Virtual decision making and ward rounds

Whilst this isn’t something I’ve done personally, I know colleagues who have used  MS Teams to see patients virtually on the ward or undertake virtual ward rounds. One of my Allied Health Professional colleagues saw all her patients throughout the pandemic, virtually, from home. This could reduce staff entering Covid positive areas or side-rooms. Not only does this help reduce the risk of spreading infection and use of PPE, it allows a variety of professionals to input into care. 

I was interested to read about The Royal Brompton Hospital’s pilot, using MS Teams for virtual decision making in ICU during the first wave of the pandemic. This allowed members of teams to support each other even if they were in different clinical areas to prevent cross infection. 

You could also use MS Teams to support communication between patients and loved ones. As a paediatrician I could imagine this being of benefit, for example, in a neonatal setting in scenarios where relatives were unable to visit the unit but wanted to see their babies during what can be an incredibly challenging time for new parents. 

Virtual training, development and medical education

In the first wave, guidance and information was changing so quickly, I relied on virtual teaching to receive training and updates from Consultants based across various sites. It is as important as ever that as evidence and guidelines evolve, training continues and that staff feel supported.

The Royal Free Hospital have been using Teams to support medical education and training and ensure rapid dissemination of new information. This article highlights that feedback was positive and staff felt supported when working out of their regular medical speciality.

What to do next 

I hope my blog has given you some ideas of how you can use this kind of technology through the pandemic and beyond. Look out for more blogs from our team with further ideas and please reach out to me if you have any case studies you would like to share.

In the meantime:

Thank you to organisations who have shared their examples, which are accurate at the time of writing however, may be subject to change.