Accessing adult social care – user research findings

26 January 2022

In our previous blog post, we shared the process of user research and how it is a team sport in the context of the ‘accessing adult social care’ project.

In this blog post, we share our top 5 learnings from the latest round of user research that will inform the next iteration of the ‘Track My Request’ service.

‘Track My Request’ is a text notification service that is now in private beta, which means it is being tested with a small live audience. The trial has been operating in Neath Port Talbot since September 2021.

Who are our users?

The service has been designed for residents of Neath Port Talbot who access adult social care. Within this, there are two main user groups: self-referrers and those referred by family or friends.

The ‘Track My Request’ service provide updates on the progress of their referral through a series of text notifications – watch the video demonstration here:

The aim is to reduce the number of avoidable calls made to adult social care by pre-empting residents’ follow-up requests for progress updates through a different communication channel.

What did we learn?

  1. Residents see digital communications as a valuable addition

Adult social care is built on relationships and the interaction between professionals and residents cannot be replaced. That being said, there is potential for digital communications to improve residents’ experience of accessing adult social care and this was validated in our learnings.

Nearly 90 percent of residents eligible for the service have now opted into ‘Track My Request’. We found that this receptiveness is owing to both the immediacy and convenience that residents feel text notifications can offer.

We also learnt that whilst some residents feel ‘Track My Request’ indicates progress for the council as an organisation; others have higher expectations because of the pandemic that services should be more accessible through digital means.

  1. Residents want more access to meaningful information about the progress of their referral

Residents feel reassured after their initial contact with the customer service team because staff members share relevant information about the referral process and details of what to expect. This gives residents comfort that they have started the process to receive support.

However, we learnt that these feelings don’t last long. The emotional state of residents, who are at crisis or trying to avoid a crisis, often prevents them from absorbing the information they are given. Many can’t recall what the process is, where they are within it, or what the next steps are for them.

  1. How we perceive the service isn’t necessarily how residents perceive the service

Following their referral, residents receive a range of communication from across adult social care, whether it is to find out more information about their circumstances, schedule appointments, or arrange the delivery of equipment.

In this round of user research, we learnt that residents often don’t know which part of the service these communications are coming from, particularly if their referral has multiple requests and is sent to multiple teams. They tend to see touchpoints as part of the same adult social care service and don’t distinguish between communications from the customer service team, ‘Track My Request’, and the individual adults social care service teams.

  1. The timing of text messages is key

Once a referral is made, text messages 1 and 2 are sent. These provide reassurance to residents by confirming that (i) their request has been logged, and (ii) has moved onto the relevant team.

However, this sets high expectations of how often residents might receive further updates, and these expectations are not currently being met. For instance, some residents assume that the delay between later texts could be an indication that their request has fallen out of the system. Alongside this, we also learnt that text notifications have a greater emotional impact if they occur during the periods when residents are not receiving communications from other parts of the service.

  1. Self-referrers and family/friend referrers experience the service in different ways

Family/friend referrers tend to be involved because the individual in need has asked them for help or because they have decided to step in and get them for help. This suggests that the individual in need may not want to deal with the referral process themselves or may not have the capacity to do so.

However, we learnt that consent regulations stipulate that the adult social care service team must contact the individual in need, even when the referral has been made on their behalf. The person making the referral may not be included in this communication, which means they may experience a longer delay between text messages from ‘Track My Request’. During these delays, their anxiety about obtaining support for the individual in need may build.

Next steps

We will use these learnings to inform the next iteration of the ‘Track My Request’ service. In particular, considering:

We’ll be engaging with stakeholders and front-line staff in adult social care to prioritise these insights and create new designs that address outstanding user needs.

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