The healthcare sector has experienced many challenges over the past few years, with hospital waiting times longer than ever, and staff shortages and strike action hitting the headlines at regular intervals.
It’s welcome news that in recent plans announced by the UK Government to improve access to primary care through the introduction of new telephone systems, there is recognition that urgent change is needed and that digital transformation in the NHS and the wider UK healthcare system is the way forward.
New phone systems are just one contributing factor when it comes to improving the patient experience.
It’s also important to consider other facets of healthcare digital transformation.
How the UK healthcare landscape has changed
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the pandemic led to seismic changes in the UK healthcare landscape, not only as a result of the pressures during that period but also in how it caused longer-term changes.
While we are post-pandemic, there is now an awareness that patients can access healthcare services in a fundamentally different way, through telemedicine and digital services rather than seeing someone face-to-face.
Telephone contact remains the main communication method for patients accessing primary care services, with a digital-first approach firmly on the agenda.
Still, in many GP practices, the benefits that new phone systems can bring are understandably not well understood and until now have been deprioritised due to funding constraints and time pressures.
As a result, many practices are still reliant on legacy phone systems which do not facilitate changes in working practices and do not provide the much-needed efficiencies which are urgently needed to improve patient access and levels of care.
It’s therefore key to the overall patient experience that technologies are used effectively to give users the easiest service possible.
Improving access to primary care through the use of unified communications
From the end of 2025, only cloud-based platforms will be supported in GP practices, with the end of the BT Openreach ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) in sight, this means the end of analogue lines.
Despite this, In December 2022 it was estimated by the primary care director of NHS England that 65 per cent of GP surgeries still use old analogue systems, with a substantial number not taking the steps to transform access to primary care.
Traditional analogue systems lack the advanced cloud telephony features that provide a better experience, such as fair queuing, call routing to the right service or member of staff, a call-back option and call reporting to allow practices to analyse call traffic to plan effectively.
The ‘8am rush’ has been a particular issue over the last few months, which is why the introduction of efficient call workflows is essential to smooth and balance call volumes.
New telephone systems can further enhance the primary care patient experience by improving access to data, improving collaboration between medical professionals and reducing inefficiencies.
With these in place, communication systems can make a tangible difference in the primary care experience for the benefit of patients and medical professionals.
Building a solid digital foundation
Communications technologies are just one part of a solid digital foundation for primary care.
Connecting digital devices and systems to provide a cohesive experience for patients all depends upon durable networks that are both reliable and deliver high levels of performance.
In this respect, the Health and Social Care Network (HSCN) has been a real success.
Secure connectivity to HSCN means the NHS can now leverage a whole variety of cloud technologies and remain confident in the safe storage and processing of sensitive patient data.
Hyper-scale resources can be leveraged to accelerate modernisation and innovation with the use of the public cloud.
Now with the additional funding made available by the Government, the primary care sector will benefit from extra financial resources which will allow practices to transform patient access to primary care, freeing up the time of busy GPs to focus on delivering quality patient care.
Delivering patient care to a high standard is a high-pressured job, one that professionals understandably prioritise over the need to think about how to implement new technologies.
External partners and consultants can crucially help healthcare organisations build a solid digital foundation by supporting them from initial consultation to implementation of services, staff training and ongoing support.
The healthcare system has faced and continues to face challenges, but if anything has been learned over the past few years it’s that digitisation can help the sector to rise to new challenges and push the boundaries of what’s possible when it comes to patient care.
What drives the need for technology and how it can make the experience better is what matters most to medical professionals, their patients and ultimately healthcare outcomes, with small steps making a big difference in streamlining vital services.
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