Digital nurses and Facebook Q&As: a look at Macmillan’s tech transformation

In today’s world, technology continually changes the ways in which we do things, and it is important that Macmillan embraces this innovation to achieve its aim of reaching and improving the lives of people affected by cancer.

By asking ourselves and people living with cancer how technology can better support them, we have made changes to the way we give out information, provide emotional support and process financial help, as well as finding innovative ways of partnering with other organisations. This allows us to be more agile, offering personalised support to people when they most need it.

At Macmillan, we provide support to people living with cancer in a number of ways, including through our information resources, Support Line service, website and Online Community, all of which enable people to get information on their treatment, emotional support and financial guidance. Both online and offline, we use technology to enhance these services wherever possible, for example last year our Online Community appointed its first dedicated Digital Nurse, Ellen McPake.

Humanising digital

Our digital nurse is there to ensure that people can talk via webchat to a real person online about their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, thus giving our beneficiaries an additional choice in how they talk to us about their cancer. Of course, there are many people who prefer to talk to a person face-to-face, perhaps via our information centres, and others who like to speak on the phone, which they can do by calling our Support Line. But there are many who would rather chat online, and this is evidenced by the impact that our digital nurse has had so far.

Currently, Ellen and her Online Community team answer around 200 queries each month, and their twice-monthly Facebook Q&As reach over 60,000 people. They receive great feedback from people with cancer and their families for their prompt and practical advice on matters such as treatment side effects, diagnosis and symptoms.

Macmillan Grants

One of the main areas of concern for people living with cancer is money, and offering financial support and guidance has long been a key priority for Macmillan. Our Macmillan Grants help those on low income to pay for essentials such as heating bills and extra clothing at a time of great need, and this is another area in which we are embracing innovation to improve the service we can offer.

This year we will change the way we deliver these grants by moving from an entirely manual application to a digitally supported process. This will shorten the time it takes to authorise a grant for our beneficiaries from 15 days to under five days, making a tangible difference to the circa 34,000 people we give grants to every year.

Benefiting from partners

Finally, we work closely with our partners to improve people’s cancer experience, and we also embrace digital innovation in this work. Often this involves benefitting from the expertise of partners who specialise in this area, and this is evident in our recent work with Fujitsu.

Together with the firm, we created a 360-degree video using input from subject matter experts and people affected by cancer, to help prepare people for head and neck cancer radiotherapy which, as you can imagine, is a very difficult time for many. The video shows the radiotherapy process in order to familiarise and prepare people undergoing treatment and also benefit close friends and families, so they have a good insight into what the treatment looks like and entails.

Capitalising on technology

As we look into the future, we intend to continue to capitalise on any opportunities technology offers to improve our work. This involves both the digital technology we use, and also the way in which we manage and utilise our data. We are currently implementing the Macmillan Data Solution, which will provide us with a single view of our data, allow us to create great digital experiences for our customers and ensure we join our offline and online experiences, creating a seamless experience for people we interact with and for our staff dealing with them.

Along with the huge benefits embracing new technology can bring, it is important to also consider the challenges and risks. The important thing for our technology strategy is that it is about giving people affected by cancer a choice. We are not going to become entirely digital, because we need to continue to support those who cannot or choose not to use these technologies, and one of the challenges we face is that many people with a cancer diagnosis may be digitally disadvantaged. However we do wish to give people more choice about how they interact with us, by offering tech that is easy to use, and might just make it easier to reach out for support at a very difficult time.

Another key challenge is making sure we do all we can to remain secure and act appropriately, particularly where data is concerned, and we are committed to protecting personal information and being transparent about how we use it, and accordance with all applicable laws. Our reputation is built on trust, and it is important we do everything we can to build and retain that confidence, whilst also embracing innovations and new technology to improve our services wherever possible.

Lynda Thomas is the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support

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