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Improving Patient Engagement in the NHS

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As part of my new role as an NHS Account Director at Redcentric, I wanted to look in more depth at the recent announcement around the 10 NHS domains outlined by the National Information Board as critical to the digitisation of the NHS, and consider each domain from a technology and operational point of view through a series of blogs.

This particular post will focus on the first pillar of the 10 domains – ‘Patient Engagement: Self-care and prevention’. The NHS describes this particular domain as a way to “to deliver the online services that patients and service users need to take control of their own care and wellbeing,” a sign that the NHS is moving to a more self-service approach in a bid to reduce operational strain.

All of the domains outlined focus on the overall need in the NHS to better streamline services – so at each step of the streamlining process, why not incorporate increased patient experience and engagement into the list of project deliverables?

The NHS now has a Director of Patient Experience to focus on improving the experience of patients engaging with the UK’s National Health Service so I see these transformation projects as linked – if you set about making changes to improve the experience of patients, then it’s likely that you will streamline the process.

The NHS is looking to improve patient engagement by incorporating learnings from the commercial world where user experience is a top priority, and applying those ideas to how services are delivered in the Public Sector. Recognising patients as commercial users is a big change to how the NHS has historically delivered its services; and technology will be a great enabler in changing how patients engage.

We are already seeing new technology driven services being introduced to drive better patient experiences such as Babylon Health where you can register for online video conference consultations with a GP – helping those who struggle to access regular NHS services to still engage with the system in a more user-friendly and suitable way. It’s all about leveraging technology to make accessing health services easier, whilst at the same time reducing the pressure on frontline health services through initiatives such as patient self-service.

Challenging the status quo

The NHS, as we know, is still predominantly paper-based; making the transition to online self-service systems ever more complex. The digitisation of the NHS is only the start; it’s the enabler for incorporating new self-service facilities and other initiatives that require a strong digital foundation upon which to build.

I recently had the ‘pleasure’ of staying at my local hospital (following an incident involving a slippery pavement and dog walking duties). Although the staff were fantastic, they were hampered by inefficient technology systems that made each task more difficult than it needed to be. The reliance on paper records meant that within just one hospital, processes and systems were not aligned, so my own journey from A&E, to a ward and subsequently to the Outpatients Department was filled with inefficiency. And it is exactly this type of inefficiency that is being targeted through the government’s digitisation plans for the NHS.

Moreover, this reliance on paper reduces the opportunity for patient self-service engagement initiatives to be put into place easily. We are all familiar with tales of letters lost in the post or delayed, resulting in missed appointments, which causes frustration for patients but also costs large amounts of money for the NHS.

Some hospitals are more advanced than others in implementing patient experience programs and are starting to install free Wi-Fi within wards to improve the patient experience within the hospital (which I did benefit from during my short hospital stay). And free Wi-Fi could be an enabler for future self-service applications for patients to engage with whilst in hospital – from receiving updates about the next visit from a doctor to the ward, through to advising on additional self-care recommendations during your time in hospital.

Something has to change

Cost is at the heart of this initiative: frontline services cannot continue operating under the current budget and demand constraints experienced by the NHS. These demands will not reduce, and the budgets will not increase in line with demand. So, something has to change – and streamlining services is the only way the NHS can survive and improve services – resulting in increased patient engagement and satisfaction levels, if done in the right way.

An unwavering focus on patient experience will ultimately push efficiency throughout the NHS, making processes simpler so that they are easier for the patient to navigate, and relying more heavily on technology to enable the delivery of self-service apps to patients. Self-service makes sense for the NHS and patients alike – as it’s cheaper than sending out letters and managing missed appointments. It also plays a role in improving resource optimisation across the NHS as a whole – if services are better connected and patients can engage with their own information, handle the appointment setting and manage their own care in real-time, then hospitals can better align their resources to handle demand more effectively.

How can technology help?

Wi-Fi, as we have discussed, is an important starting point. It will provide the foundation on which to build future services – whether that’s maps for patients within the hospital to help them navigate where to go, or for communications applications to enable improved doctor-patient engagement.

HPE Aruba’s ClearPass logon technology makes it simpler for patients and visitors to connect to Wi-Fi, allowing access to services they would normally use at home to reduce the stress of being in hospital; such as the ability to connect to Netflix, stream music or simply talk to family members, all from their own smartphone or tablet.

New services built upon Aruba’s location-based networking technology can improve the end to end patient experience; for instance directing visitors to the relevant parking space (even using number plate recognition to identify pre-allocated spaces) whilst advising on where best to enter the building for their next appointment. It can then provide a ‘follow the blue dot’ map on a smartphone to get you to where you need to be.

These solutions also provide better analytics around the number of visitors and patients within a hospital, understanding where people are within a hospital and uncovering which services are being used the most. This data provides valuable insights to make better business and operational decisions.

Outside of the hospital, having access to self-service applications to aid with appointment setting, checking-in and updating patient information better aligns with the behaviour of the ‘modern patient’, who is used to living in a world of mobile-led, self-service applications. These self-service applications also reduce the strain on frontline operational staff who can spend huge amounts of time updating information and sending out letters that could be handled by the patients themselves.

It’s ultimately about being able to access information more easily – without needing to physically go in-person to a GP to update personal data, or to advise about rearranging an appointment without spending time on the phone.

Finding the right provider

At Redcentric, we understand the huge changes that the NHS is facing in the struggle to become increasingly digitised – and we understand it’s not an overnight change for such a large and complex network of organisations.

As a wider range of NHS services become operational 24/7, we can support IT Departments by delivering round the clock managed services and support – taking the problem of infrastructure and technology away from IT teams so that they can focus on the applications being delivered to patients and clinicians.

We help Public Sector IT teams to move the focus to user-led delivery; taking the learnings from the commercial world, such as the retail sector, and putting a higher focus on customer experience (or in this case, patient experience). From simply moving a paper based appointment-setting process to a mobile application that clinicians and patients alike can engage with, delivered through a secure cloud service that scales with your patient demands, services can be streamlined whilst consistently focusing on the user experience to increase patient engagement.

Redcentric and HPE
Redcentric is a leading managed services provider delivering innovative technology to organisations to improve productivity and efficiency. Using HPE datacentre technology to power our managed cloud services, we deliver enterprise cloud and managed service solutions to the Public Sector.

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