Practice team digest

How do I... ensure the whole practice team knows about new clinical pathways?

Zoe Richmond, clinical director at the Local Optical Committee Support Unit, on the value of clear communication and training across the whole practice team when new pathways are introduced

 Illustration shows people in medical face masks connected via dotted lines

It is essential for everybody in the practice to understand the local care pathways being delivered, especially how they relate to the local referral protocols. Increasingly, non-clinical staff are becoming more involved in delegated activities within the practice, such as data capture, diagnostic work, and diagnostic information, as well as care navigation. It is important that our entire practice teams can provide consistent information to patients, supporting them towards potential self-care and easier navigation of the care pathway.

Importance of communication

It has always been important that practice teams are able to identify the people who require immediate or urgent care. But more and more often, we are getting people across our thresholds who need support for self-care. People are becoming more aware of the extended services that are available on the High Street through optometric practice. Patients will ask questions of team members, and consistency of message is critical to provide patient confidence.

At the same time, we have got to recognise that there are always going to be scenarios where non-clinical staff will need to defer to the responsible clinician. Clear communications across the team and standard operating procedures ought to be in place to ensure that is done safely.

Consistency of message is likely to be a challenge. Currently, when new pathways and new services are launched in local areas, we rely on local lead clinicians in the practice to train their practice teams and support staff. Very often when new services or pathways launch, there is an open invite for everybody to attend that launch session. Typically, you’ll find that practice managers and their clinical teams will attend, and maybe some other stakeholders that are interested or involved, such as people from the local commissioning team. It’s a bit unusual to see the extended support staff. We are very reliant on the people that do attend to communicate those messages down the line.

Widening access to training resources

One way that this can be mitigated, as we have done for the Easy Eye Care Pathway, is to have a consistent online module for practice staff, so there is a consistency of message. I know that primary care companies and Local Optical Committees (LOCs), as they support the implementation of new care pathways locally, often develop implementation packs. So, there are tools and resources that are provided to local practices for them to implement the new ways of working within their practice team.

On the Easy Eye Care Pathway, which is targeted to support people with learning disabilities and autism, the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) is working in partnership with SeeAbility and others. We have developed training modules through WOPEC, and they guide those delivering the service – the clinicial team involved, dispensing opticians, contact lens opticians and optometrists – around delivery in the service care pathway, how the practice can be adapted, and how barriers to access, both clinical and non-clinical, can be overcome.

We have done that for all of our care pathways, but for the Easy Eye Care Pathway, we recognised that there is a need to develop skills across the wider team. Elements of that module are freely open and available to all staff members. That was a change that we made. It is the first time we have made those resources available more widely.

That is probably the best example that LOCSU can point to. LOCs that have implemented new care pathways will have good resources that they could point to, too. There has been some great local work. Primary eye care companies and prime provider organisations very often have these tools and resources available.

As clinicians, we embrace peer-to-peer support, and we’re very used to working this way. We need to encourage our wider teams to support one another in a similar way


Making time for team development

It is helpful when practice teams bring the discussion around new pathways into their team development sessions. Many practices do this routinely.

One top tip would be for practice owners to allocate time for clinicians and the support staff to develop themselves. This includes their wider knowledge around the new pathways, clinical audit and continuing professional development. It is about practice managers and owners recognising the value and protecting time in people’s work plans to allow them to complete this training and personal development.

There’s a real skill in communicating with the public, and communicating appropriately with a patient. My advice would be to practice with a team member. Don’t assume that you should already have the skill. It’s a skill that you have to learn and develop, and it’s worth practising.

As clinicians, we embrace peer-to-peer support, and we’re very used to working this way. We need to encourage our wider teams to support one another in a similar way. The practice manager needs to create a safe learning environment, and create a way that you can build that rapport and trust across a team that encourages sharing.