An Interview with Head of Pathways, Sarah O'Connell-Block
An interview with Head of Patient Pathways, Sarah O'Connell-Block, an integral part of the Medbelle team whose upheld our values & vision since their inception
Written by Chloe Gale
Published: Tuesday, 21 June 2022
You’ve been with Medbelle since the beginning; how has it changed and developed?
It’s incredible to look back and consider the vastness of ideas and directions we have explored and developed over the years. We have learned so much about the UK healthcare system, and the more we learn, the more we want to get involved and ignite change. Thinking back, I feel that we were bold. We made a space for ourselves, focusing on something that was generally overlooked in the secondary healthcare space: Firstly, delivering an exceptional, high-quality patient experience and secondly, leveraging technology to create efficiencies and streamline processes.
We succeeded in making a positive impact on patients relatively early in our journey. Everything we did centred around improving the quality of the patient pathways, from creating one-to-one personal care to continuously collecting feedback, producing content, and developing a patient app that supported and guided patients through every step of their journey.
Because our approach to work has always focused on improving the quality of care we provide to our patients, it’s no surprise that today one of our main drivers is to deliver value-based care. Over the past two years, we have been implementing functions throughout the patient journey to collect more and more feedback and data, specifically PROMS (Patient Recorded Outcome Measures), which allows us to monitor, analyse and improve the outcome of patients' surgeries. This means that we not only improve the patient experience as they are receiving care but work closely with our consultants and hospitals to ensure that the outcome of a patient's treatment ultimately improves their quality of life.
As you oversee patient pathways across all surgery types, how do Cosmetics differ from Orthopaedics?
To start with, when comparing the two surgery types, the patient pathway for Orthopaedics is slightly more complex than Cosmetics in that there are more steps involved in obtaining a diagnosis and providing treatment for the patient. We also notice big differences in demographic and ‘urgency’ for treatment. Cosmetics is an elective surgery that generally caters to a young-mid range age group (25 - 45 years). There is a myriad of reasons people opt for cosmetic surgery ranging from pain to aesthetics, but these tend to be less urgent, and patients take more time to consider before proceeding with surgery. Orthopaedics, on the other hand, tends to cater to:
1) younger people with sports injuries
2) an older age group with degenerative issues.
These surgeries are normally required out of need and are generally more urgent.
For Orthopaedics, how do you create new processes?
Being involved in the creating, development and implementation of processes is something I love! And it’s something we at Medbelle have become very adept at over the years. We take time and care to create each step of the patient pathway.
We always start by researching the patient pathway as it currently stands with other providers. We explore the type and depth of information provided to patients. We collaborate closely with medical professionals within that specific field to ensure we not only cover the appropriate steps as standard but that we develop those steps to optimise them and make them smoother, more efficient and ultimately better for the patient and the surgeon. Our tech and product teams play a crucial role in developing the patient and surgeon apps to complement any new processes or pathways we establish. And finally, the cherry on top is that we always ensure we have functions in place to collect feedback throughout the journey ranging from PROMs (Patient Recorded Outcome Measures) to Independent Patient Satisfaction Reviews allowing patients to provide feedback and share their experiences in their own words.
How does digitisation support you in your work?
When you consider the UK healthcare system, it has, in a way, become renowned for being the sector that can benefit most from digitisation but being the slowest at adapting it.
This is why “leveraging technology to deliver great care” was always one of our core values - the healthcare sector is in dire need of it! Think of the efficiencies that could be gained from doing away with paper-based records; it’s incredible.
At Medbelle, digitisation is at the heart of everything we do, so I can’t imagine another way. Information is encrypted and safe, it can be accessed instantly, and it can be shared with appropriate parties with ease. Communication on a single platform allows patients, surgeons, hospitals and Medbelle to work more efficiently and effectively together, resulting in fewer delays, miscommunication and mistakes. And, of course, having access to mass data allows for continued monitoring, analysing and improvement of our services.
What are your biggest challenges, and how do you overcome them?
In the past, I think our biggest shared challenge as a company was ‘getting our foot in the door’. Our vision for improving patient pathways was, in general, positively received by our partner surgeons and hospitals, but the leap from the current pathway to where we wanted it to be was something that took a lot of time and patience.
I was always very driven and eager to implement as much positive change as quickly as possible, but of course, it was not prudent or possible to just dive in and change everything at once - especially in healthcare. It was a slow and steady process that required a lot of trust-building and proving ourselves to our partners and patients over time.
It was a huge challenge to slow down and accept that the speed of implementation of our efforts would not only be driven and dictated by us but by the slower moving industry parties that we were integrating with. Fortunately, this was a lesson that we learned and drew positives from together, and ultimately we have managed to build a trusted brand that will serve as a strong foundation as we continue to grow.
Now jump to the present day. I find myself in a similar situation now as we expand our service into multiple disciplines. Having launched into Orthopaedics a while back, we work with many new surgeons, clinicians and hospitals, and the same rules apply. It’s about integrating through building trust and consistently delivering a service that our patients and partners see value in.
As head of Patient Care and Pathway Management, how does your team ensure all patients have the best possible experience?
In general, I have always been very driven to ensure that I cultivate an environment of supportive teamwork, collaborative decision making, and continued learning for everyone.
We have developed a very thorough onboarding program for our Patient Care team. Over the last two years, we have revamped all of our training content and created an online E-learning platform with videos, quizzes and lots of interactive ways for the team to learn. We hold regular refresher training, spontaneous knowledge quizzes and games for fun and of course, we regularly monitor calls for quality assurance. On top of all the resources we provide to our team, we are very focused on individual development, so everyone will receive regular feedback and support on how they can best achieve their personal goals - including myself!
Overall, I believe we have set a high standard for team performance, and we are very much driven by and celebrate our commitment to excellence. As a result, we are one of the top-rated healthcare providers in the UK on Trustpilot, we consistently have an NPS in the high 80s or above, and the constant stream of positive feedback from patients every day is confirmation and motivation for all of us that our hard work pays off.
You’ve led the Patient Care team for half a decade. Do you have a favourite memory at all?
One of my fondest memories from the early days was a meeting in my first few weeks working for Medbelle. I remember our team looking over an industry-standard patient pathway and then asking ourselves, “if we were to improve the quality of this pathway and elevate it to provide an experience that we would be proud to provide to our parents or grandparents, what would that look like?” That was the basis for building the Medbelle experience - constructing pathways as caring and supportive as we would want for our own family, which I’m immensely proud of. It made what we do personal to each of us, and that was a great foundation on which to build.
Thinking about that, I can honestly say that one of the greatest validations for all the hard work my team and myself have accomplished over these years are in the feedback and reviews that patients have left for us. Full of genuine thanks and gratefulness that we were so caring through what, for many, was a life-changing experience. It’s confirmation that we are succeeding in doing what we set out to do all those years ago when we had that first meeting.
Our mission statement is “raising the standard of healthcare” what does that mean to you?
Speaking from experience, I believe that undergoing surgery can be a daunting and overwhelming event for many patients. The process can feel disjointed with many different people involved and giving you information. It’s hard to know where to direct your questions and who you can talk to. Personally and having talked to hundreds of patients over the last six years, this alone can cause much anxiety and stress. We as humans feel comfort in ‘knowing’, in being able to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally, in being able to plan.
For me, ‘raising the standard of healthcare’ means involving the patient more in their own journey. At Medbelle, we are building pathways that not only give patients full transparency about every step in their journey, but we provide a real person to talk to and lean on and ask questions.
When I look back and consider the difference this would have made to my own surgery experience, I can honestly say that I would have felt safer, listened to and reassured. This is how every patient should feel when they receive care, and I’m determined that every Medbelle patient does feel that way.
Sarah O'Connell-Block | Head of Pathway Management
Sarah was one of the first members of Medbelle and brings years of patient care experience and strategic insights. Building the Patient Care journey from the ground up, she has a unique viewpoint and the skills that are invaluable to providing the best patient experience
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Joe Ashley | Head of Provider Partnerships
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