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New NHS framework to bring innovation to patient communication

10 January 2022

The NHS SBS framework will change how the NHS communicates with us all, but it will take a co-ordinated effort

The Oxford word of the year for 2021 was vax. It’s unsurprising given the current emphasis on accelerating the booster programme – I’ve certainly noticed a marked increase in email and SMS communications from the NHS about booking vaccinations in the last few days.

The approach to using digital channels to get the message out there reflects the way in which Covid has changed how we communicate with health practitioners. Before the pandemic, online consultations with a GP were broadly done with private providers. Now it’s a norm across the public sector.

Email, text, web pages and QR codes have all been used to facilitate everything from booking appointments for tests, obtaining rapid testing kits, submitting and receiving PCR results, to managing track and trace. Embracing digital has been a necessity to keep people informed and safe during the pandemic.

That said, accessing patient records securely, providing digital services and tools to patients, and using online processes to cut down admin costs and time were already a priority for the ‘NHS Long Term Plan’. It recognises that simple interventions, such as sending appointment reminders to slash ‘did not attend’ rates or offering repeat prescriptions via an online service, can add up to huge savings in time and money.

The public health situation we find ourselves in today has made things more complex and as such has accelerated the roll out of some of these services listed above. Being able to provide contactless options has been a critical concern for keeping people safe and helping the NHS cope with demand and manage waiting lists. In turn, the readiness of patients to use digital channels to communicate with health care providers has increased the adoption rates for digital communications adoption.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. We are likely to see real innovation coming through over the next two years as the NHS SBS Patient / Citizen Communications & Engagement Solutions Procurement framework kicks in.

Created in 2004 by the Department of Health and Social Care to deliver corporate services to the NHS, it is a unique joint venture with Sopra Steria – a European leader in digital services and software development. The NHS SBS makes life easier for NHS employees, patients and suppliers, and delivers value for money to the taxpayer.

The Patient/Citizen Communications & Engagement framework, which runs from 01 Nov 2021 – 31 Oct 2023 (with option to extend to 2025) is designed to enhance the interactions between healthcare providers and citizens, ensuring all patients receive reminders, alerts and support when needed. As such, the framework will let any NHS or public sector organization procure communication services from approved providers such as LINK Mobility.

I believe it’s very good news. It will significantly change the agenda as to how patients communicate with health care providers. It will be less transactional – remember you’ve got an appointment tomorrow and bring your notes – to conversational. This means a physio team could send a text or WhatsApp message to a new referral asking them to book an appointment with a list of the slots available and options of how to book.

However, with so many stakeholders involved in any one patient’s treatment, it’s vital that communications are co-ordinated, meaningful and timely.

That’s why it will be so important to use platforms like ‘CPaaS’ – standing for Communications Platform as a Service. It takes the pain out of managing different ways of communicating with a single patient. Email, SMS, online tools, voice and OTT services like WhatsApp can all be linked so there’s one view of the patient’s correspondence, and communication preferences are respected. If someone only wants SMS or email communication that can be clearly denoted versus someone who likes to use WhatsApp or the phone.

It means the smallest of GP surgeries and the largest of track and trace networks could all provide personal and, most importantly, secure services. Clinicians, admin teams and support services could all be granted access to improve patient delivery.

The use cases range from sending interactive video messages that give knee replacement patients exercises to do to strengthen their limb, through providing a link to FAQs hosted online about what to expect about a planned treatment, to submitting daily blood pressure readings.

With CPaaS, the dependency on having people available to help a patient also diminishes. Instead, chatbots can be deployed to help with the most asked queries before handing off to a subject expert who can respond by phone if more detailed answers are needed.

Of course, as I’ve already alluded to, security must be paramount. In many cases, authentication will be imperative. CPaaS can manage this with built-in identity processes and ensure someone is who they say they are. Banks have pioneered this and it’s ripe for the NHS to leverage.

Indeed, the NHS can learn from numerous sectors from retail to hospitality that have used CPaaS to improve customer experience, reduce overheads and even drive an eco-agenda. In the case of the NHS time can be spent helping people, money can be spent providing better care.

It all adds up and it’s why we are so proud to have been accepted into the NHS SBS framework. It will give all NHS and local government organisations access to our technologies via a compliant framework.

The pandemic is far from over. Resources are already under great strain. That’s why helping to make the job of managing patients easier, freeing up time from better communications and saving money as a result are and will continue to be priorities. And it’s why we’ll make it our priority to turn digital transformation into a reality.

If you are ready to make a start on your communication transformation plan, then get in touch. We can help develop the right plan for your organisation and your patients.

Steve Stroud is UK Partner Manager for LINK Mobility UK

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