ChatHealth is a safe and secure text messaging service that helps young people get in touch with healthcare professionals.
First developed by school nurses at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), ChatHealth supports greater efficiencies within adolescent community nursing teams, with individual nurses able to provide for a greater number of service users.
It is cost effective and uses technology young people are familiar with, providing confidential and timely access to healthcare.
Young people do not need to wait for a nurse visit at school and the service is completely anonymous meaning it reaches out to often seldom heard groups. In the first quarter of operations at LPT 20% of school nurse contact was delivered via messaging – 10% higher than expected update.
In just over two years it has grown from 65,000 users in Leicestershire and Rutland and is now available to around 1M young people across the entire country.
The East Midlands Academic Health Science Network has supported ChatHealth since it won an innovation award in 2014, with activities such as intellectual property, marketing and communications and senior commercial guidance, helping it extend beyond Leicestershire.
A well organised messaging enquiries service can be an efficient way of working for teams that are already stretched, for example one duty nurse can support large populations of people, within existing capacity, delivering up to 100 additional contacts every month. Working in more traditional ways, it would require the appointment of two additional nurses to improve reach to the same level. The ChatHealth platform is predominantly used by adolescent health teams.
The majority of enquiries are in relation to emotional and mental health and wellbeing, including self-harming and low mood – some of these kinds of contacts can be significant from the point of view of safeguarding vulnerable young people.
The next most regular type of enquiry relates to sexual health.
“It allows us to express ourselves in ways we couldn’t express to our friends – to know its confidential makes me open-up.” – Service user
“Some things are so embarrassing you can’t talk about them. If you message first, the nurse knows what you’re going to talk about when you get there.” – Service user
Other types of health teams are now beginning to adopt the platform which is changing the nature of the enquiries received.
For example, where it is being adopted by health visiting teams, the enquiries received are about child health and development.