Rapid Insights: A reflection

12th August 2020

In the final instalment of our three-part Rapid Insights blog series, Professor Julia Newton, AHSN NENC Medical Director, and Russ Watkins, AHSN NENC Commercial Director, reflect on what they have learnt from the use of Rapid Insights, how it has supported the regional healthcare system during the pandemic and whether it has longevity as an evaluation tool within healthcare.

What have you learnt so far from using Rapid Insights as an evaluation tool?

Julia: What I’ve realised with Rapid Insights is that you can get an awful lot of information very quickly about what people are thinking at a certain point in time. Although it might not be as scientifically rigorous as gold standards like randomised controlled trials, it’s very pragmatic, it’s very much of the moment and, because of that, it allows you to have answers very quickly. Each of the Rapid Insights that we have done so far have achieved what they needed to achieve at that moment in time.

With COVID-19, one of the things that I have realised is that it’s so easy to forget what it was like in those first few weeks and months, and if you were asking people now to reflect back on how they felt at the time, for example in the purest qualitative interview, you wouldn’t get a sense of what they were really thinking or feeling at that particular time. By doing Rapid Insights it has advantages because you really do seem to capture the true essence of what people were thinking at that time.

Russ: I completely agree with Julia. I guess from my perspective, I looked at Rapid Insights as a way of gathering information quickly, that was more formal than a survey, but not having to go through the months of preparation and asking questions like ‘do you need ethics?’

The key thing here was speed – we wanted to capture the moment and it actually wasn’t very hard to do. We needed to do a bit of to and fro to make sure we got the content right, but it didn’t take long.

We did some learning along the way. For example, we didn’t get one question around geography quite right at the start because we didn’t think as clearly as we should’ve done about who would want to use the results afterwards. You’ve got to think about your audience, and we should have taken a step back to think about who the end users were and how we would departmentalise the answers based on the audience.

Julia: We should have thought about that beforehand on reflection but that was the first one we did, and we haven’t made that mistake again. You do learn and adapt very quickly.

Where/how do Rapid Insights add value?

Julia: We have applied methodologies that are widely used in market research and business analytics to a problem in healthcare. The idea of Rapid Insights is that they give you a snapshot of what is bothering people at a particular time and this information can direct you towards where you should do further work.

Russ: In an ideal world what you would want to do is have the Rapid Insights first, then this would inform where support was needed and this could lead to more in depth evaluation at a later date. That’s the clear advantage of it, it should be used where you want to understand something quickly, capture that, but then do something with it. Not just write it up from an academic paper point of view but actually implement something that has come out of it. Otherwise it’s pointless.

Julia: People want to know that the information they provide isn’t just going to sit on a shelf, that at the end of the process you’re going to listen to what was said and act upon it. We’re already making use of the insights we have gained through this process and this is being shared and filtered through the system. If people see that the surveys are a conduit through which things happen, they will continue to participate.

Where/how would you use it again?

Russ: I think it could be used in a situation where there’s a particular problem in part of the health system and we want to see how widespread that is. Or if we have a similar situation like COVID-19 where something triggers quite significant change and you need to capture how people are feeling during that change. However, I don’t think we would use it as often as we have in the last few months.

Julia: You need a rapidly changing landscape to use Rapid Insights over a very short period of time to capture what people are feeling at that moment. I think it served a very important purpose during the pandemic but, unless we end up with another sudden change, I think it’s probably had its day for now.

I do believe that our use of Rapid Insights showed that we are adaptable as an organisation, that we respond to the needs of our regional stakeholders and that we can do things rapidly in order to respond to those questions and queries that they raise.

Russ: There has to be a genuine pull from the system to want to do something with the outputs and that condition has to be there. I think it was the right time and the right questions and, importantly, it was always going to feed in to something. We had high level support and it was the right environment to do it. I’m not sure you would get that right environment very often. Rapid Insights do have a time and a place, but it’s crucial we don’t forget about it because we will need it again.


You can read the first two blogs in the series by clicking the links below:

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

Blog 2: Rapid Insights – What is the difference, and how did we do it?


Our ‘Shaping the Digital Future of Primary Care’ event is on the 15th September and will build upon the Rapid Insights feedback. Click here to reserve your place.