BLOG 1: What is Rapid Insights, and why do we need it?

29th July 2020

Welcome to our new blog series. Over the next three blogs, Commercial Director Russ Watkins, and Medical Director Professor Julia Newton explore Rapid Insights – a term coined by the AHSN Network that offers a new way to approach evaluation. The outbreak of COVID–19 has brought many challenges, but it has also allowed for new ways of working at pace and scale and this blog series looks to explore one of those new approaches.

Below, Russ looks at what Rapid Insights is, what makes it different and why we need it during this time of change…


My last blog explored my thoughts about whether management speak would get in the way of innovation occurring, so you might think that this is slightly hypocritical by potentially using one here. In my defence, the first time I heard the term ‘Rapid Insights’ I, for a moment, thought it was another one starting with ‘R’. However, I thought I would listen a bit more about it – I got it straight away and without wondering what it really means. I will not take credit for the term and its meaning; I am happy to say that it was a by-product of the AHSN Network. There was a meeting of a handful of AHSNs to explore what we were doing about evaluation of COVID-related innovations. Both Wessex AHSN and South West Coast were using Rapid Insights as a starting point for understanding what formal evaluation should be undertaken. I was fascinated by it and wondered if we could adopt it in supporting primary care to understand how digital technology had enhanced (or otherwise) their response to COVID-19 and, more importantly, would they use it long term.

Later that day, I excitedly called Julia Newton, AHSN NENC Medical Director, an experienced researcher, to say “let’s not do an evaluation, let’s do Rapid Insights”. Half expecting her to humour me for a bit, and let me down gently to say that we are better off doing a more formal evaluation, she, like me, got it straight away. So we set about applying it to a survey we had begun to discuss with Jonathan Harness, GP and Chair of the North East North Cumbria GP IT Response Group. It just felt right.



Across the country there has been rapid deployment of digital technology across the NHS, especially in primary care. Whilst there was a strategy in primary care for adoption of digital technology (Digital First Primary Care) to allow for patients to use online consultation to access the primary care healthcare team through automated triage, web-based or telephone triage, video consultation instead of face-to-face and the use of SMS texting to support or nudge patients. In the North East, there was a digital blueprint to introduce these technologies but over a time frame of several years. COVID-19 provided an impetus to get this technology in place to enable remote support of patients. And these technologies were deployed in weeks not years.

So what did we need to understand?

  • How did the implementation go?
  • Has it added work, or has it been beneficial?
  • Is it likely to be used longer term, if so what, if any, support would be needed?


What are Rapid Insights?

I suspect there might be a technical framework for it, but this is my take. The clue is in the title  – how can you get a quick response (Rapid) to the above questions that allows you to look for themes and act on them accordingly (Insights). We developed a Smart Survey which had largely Yes/No; Slide Bar; or multiple-choice questions which allows for quick and quantitative responses – but, importantly, for some questions the ability to add free text to give further context.

We agreed the content with the GP IT Response Group, but also took some sounding from other key stakeholders such as NECS (our local commissioning support unit) and NHS England, who were looking to set up a regional blended team to support the uptake of the technology in primary care. Critically, we also teamed up with Yorkshire & Humber AHSN to ensure that we delivered the Rapid Insights’ survey across the whole of North East and Yorkshire. This was an important element as it formed part of a wider evaluation piece with Yorkshire & Humber AHSN looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the NHS.

We also got the green light from the national lead at NHS Digital and the Digital and Primary Care Cell leads and shared it through communication channels across all stakeholders to ‘get it out there’. The Rapid bit was a two-week deadline – we had absolutely no idea if we would get 5 or 500 responses…

In the next instalment, Julia Newton breaks down how the AHSN NENC approached this new method of evaluation – what the team had to consider during the planning stages and the delivery of this Rapid Insights’ evaluation.

The next blog ‘Rapid Insights: What’s the difference, and how do we do it?’ will be live on the AHSN NENC website next week. 

In the meantime, iyou’d like to find out more about the AHSN Rapid Insights, contact Russ Watkins