The global pandemic has shone a spotlight on the extraordinary efforts of the people working for the NHS. In these unprecedented times, what more can hospitals be doing to ensure staff are fully supported by technology that enables them to deliver exceptional patient care?
Few sectors can make a stronger business case for customer-oriented communications strategies than public healthcare. In this world, where the ‘customers’ are patients and the ease of communication can directly impact patient health, it is vital that NHS trusts have the systems in place to support omnichannel communications that give patients choice.
“Hospitals hold a lot of sensitive patient information”, explains Pete Whitehouse, public sector expert at Opus, “so understandably they are more cautious about opening up their systems than perhaps an enterprise organisation might be. But the realisation now is that times are changing, patient expectations are changing and there are opportunities now to deliver a superior patient experience when people have to visit a hospital, whilst keeping sensitive data secure.”
Prior to joining Opus, Pete has worked for some of the largest systems integrators in the marketplace, predominantly supporting large enterprises and then the public sector for the last nine years. In this time, he has learned a great deal about the needs of public healthcare, as well as how cloud companies themselves have developed to better meet them.
What do we mean by ‘the patient experience’?
When we are talking about the patient experience, what we are really discussing is the outpatient experience, and the requirement by a trust to simplify that.
“We all know how easy it is to book a cab”, Pete explains. “You ring them up and they notify you when the vehicle is due to arrive, they tell you if it’s going to be late, and they inform you of the vehicle’s make and registration. It’s all relevant information that makes it a lot easier for us as the customer. The [out]patient experience should replicate that.”
In the context of an NHS trust, this could mean making it easier for patients to book appointments, as well as making it possible to set and amend appointments across multiple channels. It could also be setting up a simple system to keep the patient informed.
Patient outcomes are improved through [the adoption of new technologies] that aid recovery, greater efficiency, enhanced experience and greater precision with fewer errors. This technology can also deliver substantial running cost and staffing savings.
Michael Urie, GT Market Intelligence
“It’s about a patient being able to engage with a hospital or public healthcare service in the way that they want to engage, and keeping them updated”, Pete explains. “Take missed or late appointments, for example. Between navigating a hospital and finding parking, the typical patient experience is stressful enough already without going through all that only to find out the doctor is running half an hour late. A simple service to notify the patient of this would reduce their stress, giving them a little more breathing time.”
The patient experience plays a fundamental part in delivering exceptional patient care. The key for trusts set on achieving this standard is the provision of a single point of access, giving patients the use of an integrated system that makes their experience much better.
Embracing a single point of access
Within the hospital environment, a single point of access describes a system in which patients can engage with the hospital using a single point, such as a phone number or website.
“It creates a single repository for all the information held by the trust, so when a patient gets in touch because they have injured themselves, for example, and they need to book a visit to A&E, they can identify themselves and the recipient can immediately access all their basic patient information as well as their history of interactions, to get a fuller, more complete picture of the patient and their needs.”
Equipped with this information, call handlers have everything they need to help resolve the patient’s query in a single interaction, instead of having to pass them around, put them on hold for extensive periods of time, or get back in touch with them at a later date.
Enabled by an underlying network of interconnected digital assets, [smart hospitals] are able to optimise, redesign and create new clinical processes, management systems and infrastructure. [They] are also able to provide services and insights which help improve patient care, patient experience and operational efficiency.
Michael Urie, GT Market Intelligence
“Because the system is joined up, it is much easier for each call or interaction to be taken by the right person”, Pete explains. “This offers a much better experience than having to self-select the service the patient needs on the phone, which often leads to them being redirected and/or finding out there is no one available to take their call.”
This level of integration is a clear example of hospitals providing their staff with the tools and systems that meet the needs of the high standard of care they want to deliver.
“In some cases, particularly in mental health and social care, social workers are trying to do their best to support the people in their care. But the infrastructure in place doesn’t offer the functionality they need. As a result, they often end up giving out their personal mobile numbers, which mean there’s no way of tracking the calls that are happening.”
Improving the patient experience through the provision of a single point of access therefore depends on the hospitals or trusts in question having the proper infrastructure and the right systems in place to enable the service.
Systems that simplify the patient experience
Aligning today’s patient expectations with the hospital’s infrastructure requires a platform that is easy to use. It must be able to deliver a flexible service at any time, from any place, and it needs to provide full reporting capabilities, with fixed costs wrapped around a managed service. Often, it must also be possible to deploy these services very quickly. This tends to lead to a cloud-based platform as the optimum solution.
“As an example, we’re working with a trust at the moment. They have a sizeable traditional telephony estate, but they had just taken over a mental health service and they didn’t want to bring it into their main site telephony because the duration of the contract is only three to five years. As a result, they needed a flexible platform on a cost-per-user model that matched the duration of the contract they were entering into.”
Based on the trust’s requirements, Opus recommended a suitable cloud platform featuring 200 users across five sites and 30 contact centre agents. To meet the immediate needs of the trust, we delivered it in a six-week window, but it is in the long-term where the trust has seen the biggest benefits.
“A broad range of NHS services have adapted and digitally innovated in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, with staff going above and beyond to find new ways of working.”
Hannah Crouch, Digital Health
Key takeaway for NHS trusts upgrading their systems
“A trust considering investing in their communications estate should not be put off by thinking that they have to change everything in order to make an improvement”, Pete stresses. “Break it down into smaller bites. It may be that they just want to improve their online presence through AI to enable patients to book appointments online using the website, for example, or set up a small number of agents to help them via webchat.”
In many cases, trusts can leverage existing investments, and part-migrate where it is necessary to new digital services. It doesn’t have to be a rip-and-replace, big-bang approach. A trust might not have the budget for a full transformation but it can still update some aspect of its systems to provide new functionality.
“We could overlay a cloud contact centre on top of their legacy systems to deliver all the functionality the trust needs, for example. There are steps we can take as a business to get them to where they want to go, be it a phased approach or a hybrid solution. We have an accomplished team in place to deal with large public sector tender responses.”
Specialist support from solution design experts
Integrating communications with clinical systems containing highly sensitive information is best achieved with the support of specialist solution design experts. At Opus, we thrive on the complex, drawing from 29 years of experience to deliver custom-built omnichannel CCaaS (Contact Centre as a Service) solutions our customers need to thrive. As an independent technology provider, we can implement a state of the art omnichannel CCaaS solution with our industry-leading partners. Our team works with each of our customers to understand the challenges and opportunities within their communications estates and then work in partnership to implement their chosen solutions seamlessly.
“We’ve got some of the best solution design experts in the UK”, Pete explains. “We’re the most qualified, we’ve got years and years of experience amongst the team and we can deliver these high-level projects really well. It’s amazing how many of these projects don’t go well when they aren’t implemented properly. We really shine in these areas.”
What are your systems saying?
“We’re all familiar with the fact that the world has changed very quickly, particularly technology-wise, over the last 12 months”, Pete explains. “But it’s fair to say it has been changing for some time before that. Many people don’t take phone calls anymore. Many people don’t even text. They interact in other ways using different channels and trusts are realising that they need to offer this if they want to continue to meet patient expectations.”
“NHS trusts are not always able to meet the expectations of staff and patients in the twenty-first century in regards to digital”, writes Digital Health, “but by continuing to build on the momentum created as a side effect of the pandemic, and through continued financial support, digital transformation can be achieved at pace.”
It comes back to creating an omni-channel service that gives the patient choice and a single point of access that simplifies what is typically a stressful experience for any patient.
On this, Pete is very clear. “It should be about how the patient wants to engage with you, not how you want to engage with the patient, and hospitals are beginning to understand that. Their systems just need to catch up, which is where we can help.”