Test & scale success: five top tips to a successful pilot

At Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, we are running multiple pilot programmes at any one time, testing and evaluating innovative models of care and transformative technology as part of our CW Innovation programme. CW Innovation is a joint initiative between the Trust and its charity, CW+, and, as a delivery partner for the Accelerator, we have worked closely with the DigitalHealth.London to pilot Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) since the programme’s inception five years ago with the aim of driving broader adoption across the NHS. 

Over the years this experience has provided me with some key insights into what works, and what doesn’t work, when it comes to pilots. So here are my five top tips for running a successful pilot:

  1. Be clear about what you want to achieve: You might think that it is obvious, but you need to research and thoroughly understand the impact of the technology on both the clinician and the patient, and understand your intended outcome. Identify where and why the pilot is specifically needed and consider how the product will be actively implemented. For example, generating evidence to use in a marketing campaign or as part of a submission to a regulatory body is very different to a pilot focused on service improvement. It is essential to find the right clinician partner to ensure you are genuinely addressing a real need and are working with someone who will have time to support your pilot and aims. 
  2. Understand the environment: It is important to know the environment in which your pilot will be implemented in the real world. Think of your innovation as just one part of a complex care pathway. You must understand the bigger picture and the impact your pilot will have on all the other elements that intercepts or touches it. It must be adaptable to internal systems and processes too, so I recommend you get to know how teams work together, who is responsible for what and be clear on the key processes involved at every stage.
  3. Go in with a game plan: Have a think about what you do know and what you want to learn; you will meet numerous people from different teams and there will be ample opportunity to learn from others along the way so keep an open mind. Be clear in your own mind about what you don’t know – are there any key gaps in knowledge. For example: how is the service commissioned? Is it a block contract – limited in opportunities to grow income through increased activity – or do other contracting models apply?
  4. Actively manage your pilot: The pilot will need to be actively managed from start to finish, with clarity around, for example, responsibilities, contact points and frequency of meetings.  Make sure that you are involved at every stage with staff, patients and information dissemination. All factors that make the pilot easy or difficult need to be acknowledged. Have a think about what could go wrong and consider scenario planning as well as the follow up stage on completing the pilot, so you don’t wait until the end before discussing what happens next. It is also important to take into account both clinical and patient experience, and not just key opinion leaders, consider the impact on colleagues, junior doctors and consultants.
  5. Set aims and clear metrics: Know your short and long-term goals and milestones. Evaluation is key so make sure you know what you want to measure in advance and how you’re going to do it. Accessing benchmark data is important so think about how the service was performing before the innovation was piloted. Be clear about what is being measured and think about the following:
  • Patient benefit – experience and outcome
  • Staff benefit – ease of use and fit with workflow
  • Operational benefits – better use of appointments / staff as well as efficiency gains vs cash releasing

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