Setting up an online forum is an easy, inexpensive way to encourage better communication among healthcare staff, especially those working different shifts. John Harrison explains

One of the keys to effective management in any organisation is communication.

In the health sector, this can present challenges. Delivering out-of-hours GP care and other services means operating 24 hours a day. Staff working different shifts may find it difficult to keep in touch and discuss problems that arise at work.

Northern Doctors Urgent Care has addressed this challenge by introducing an online forum for staff. It has turned out to be a great success.

In the know

Known as the NDUC bulletin system, it was developed in-house and allows users to post problems, send and receive feedback from other staff and managers, and record and monitor any significant events.

It has been more than six months since we abandoned our traditional paper log books, which, by comparison, were a fairly crude method of recording any problems that occurred during out-of-hours shifts. With the old system, the management team had to trawl through each book before passing on details of any incidents by email or telephone.

Now, emails and pop-ups instantly alert managers to anything that has been entered into their section of the forum, enabling them to take immediate action.

Clear benefits

One of the most useful aspects of the forum is that it allows users to post any problems they encounter so that others who have experienced similar situations can offer help and advice. In this way, users rely less on phone calls to on-call managers to help them through difficult situations and can instead learn from the experiences of their colleagues.

Of course, not all team members will want to post their problems on a public forum, which is why we created a facility to allow private, one-to-one contact between individual staff members and their managers. This allows users to ask their managers more sensitive questions and to seek their advice on problems they would rather not share with the rest of the forum.

Another benefit of the system is that it has dramatically cut the use of paper in our offices and relieved pressure on email inboxes. However, I am in no doubt that the key factor behind its popularity is the social element. We have tried to ensure that staff feel they have a degree of ownership of the forum and the public notice boards set up within the system have proved a useful way for staff to post day-to-day items, including details of team nights out.