Opinion

The PSTN switch-off: Seizing the digital transformation opportunity for health organisations

By Damian Hanson, Co-Founder & Director of CircleLoop

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The BT-planned shutdown of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) will have an impact on a number of industries that have long relied on traditional telephony services.

Among these sectors, healthcare stands as one of the most crucial and impactful areas where effective communication can make a tangible difference in the lives of patients and the work of healthcare professionals.

But what is the PSTN switch-off, why is this happening and how does it impact the healthcare sector?

What is the PSTN switch-off?

PSTN has been the traditional telephony infrastructure that has facilitated voice communication since the telephone was first invented.

However, with the rapid advancement of digital technology and the growing popularity of internet-based communication services, the need for PSTN has diminished and is deemed redundant.

As a result, BT has decided to phase out PSTN at the end of December 2025 and will stop selling analogue phone lines to new customers by September 2023.

This will encourage migration to more modern and efficient communication networks.

This switch-off entails the termination of traditional landline services and the transition towards technology like internet-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The PSTN switch-off represents a significant shift in the telecommunications landscape, requiring businesses and organisations, including healthcare providers, to adapt their communication systems to the new digital era.

Our latest data analysis that looks at 5G connectivity for Britain’s businesses highlights that the switch-off will drive businesses towards cloud-based options for business communications that will need 5G when WiFi isn’t available.

The significance of a modern phone system in healthcare

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Maintel revealed that 44 per cent of Hospital Trusts in England and Wales have no strategy for the 2025 PSTN withdrawal.

This could be a unique predicament for the healthcare sector as the FOI also found that among the 56 NHS trusts which could respond, there is a staggering number of PSTN/ISDN lines installed – up to 10,315 in total.

There’s a strong reliance on PSTN lines but the switch-off signals a turning point for health organisations, urging them to reassess their communication infrastructure and embrace the digital transformation opportunities that lie ahead.

By upgrading their phone systems, healthcare organisations can unlock a range of benefits and capabilities that can significantly enhance their operations and patient care outcomes.

From streamlined call routing and intelligent call recording to integrating with other healthcare systems, modern phone systems offer features that empower healthcare professionals to provide efficient and effective care.

The PSTN switch-off presents a challenge for healthcare organisations, especially those with historic hospital buildings.

Installing new technologies in these buildings can cause major issues.

Hospital trusts must conduct comprehensive audits as early as this year to identify affected services and order timely technology upgrades.

This proactive approach ensures a smooth transition and enables healthcare organisations to be prepared for the discontinuation of the PSTN.

As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, the needs and expectations of patients and healthcare professionals continue to evolve.

In this dynamic landscape, communication tools play a vital role in ensuring that healthcare organisations can deliver efficient and effective care to those who depend on their services at a time when our NHS is already under immense pressure.

Navigating the PSTN switch-Off and digital transformation strategies

Here are the top five tips on the best ways to transition to the new digital offering without widespread disruption:

  1. Plan Ahead – Start early by conducting a thorough assessment of your communication infrastructure and identifying the potential impact of the PSTN switch-off. Develop a roadmap for upgrading your phone systems and ensure timely implementation to avoid disruptions in services. Note that fax machines will also be affected.
  2. Embrace Cloud-based Solutions – Explore cloud-based communication platforms, such as VoIP systems, which offer scalability, flexibility, and advanced features. Cloud solutions can streamline communication processes and support digital transformation initiatives.
  3. Ensure Compatibility and Integration – When selecting new communication systems, prioritise compatibility and integration capabilities with existing healthcare systems and applications. Seamless integration enables smooth workflows, enhances collaboration, and optimises overall efficiency. Alternative solutions are an opportunity to upgrade, not just replace.
  4. Educate and Train Staff – Provide comprehensive training to your staff on the new communication technologies and systems. Educate them on the benefits, functionalities, and best practices to maximise adoption and utilisation, ensuring a smooth transition.
  5. Prioritise Security and Compliance – As you embrace digital transformation, prioritise security measures to protect sensitive patient data. Implement robust encryption, access controls, and compliance frameworks to ensure confidentiality and meet regulatory requirements.

Moving forward…

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, healthcare organisations have no choice but to adapt and embrace modern communication tools.

The public health industry in particular is slow to evolve and slower still to digitally transform, but the PSTN switch is happening whether we like it or not.

The switch-off presents a critical juncture for the healthcare sector to embark on a transformative journey, reimagining the way they communicate and unlocking the potential for improved patient experiences and enhanced collaboration among healthcare professionals.

Embarking on this exploration of strategies and opportunities, to shape the future of healthcare communication in an ever-changing world, has been a long time coming for healthcare – and make no mistake, this is a great opportunity for all involved.

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