15th August 2023.

Technology continues to drive big changes in customer experience. Due to the rise in expectation and demands, and the proliferation of digital channels, many organisations have turned to Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) solutions to help manage their interactions with their customers. The cloud-based delivery model has been widely adopted by the private sector to enable unified and personalised omnichannel journeys. Kenny Bloxham, Director at Healthcare Communications, thinks it is now poised to disrupt patient communications in the NHS.

In recent years, there has been a positive and significant shift within the NHS towards patient-centric care, with a strong emphasis placed on improving patient experience through more accessible and timely communication. I believe CPaaS has the potential to expedite this.

It has been 15 years since Healthcare Communications sent the first SMS in the NHS, a move which would go on to transform the way that patients interact with their healthcare providers. Patients can now book, confirm, cancel and reschedule appointments digitally at their own convenience. This has resulted in greater patient satisfaction levels and helped NHS trusts to make cost and efficiency savings by reducing the number of Did Not Attend (DNA) appointments.

However, despite the advances that have been made to improve communication between patients and healthcare providers, the NHS still lags behind the consumer world. Innovation has been stifled by security concerns, resistance to change and public trust.

Even so, I believe we are about to witness a major breakthrough in the way patients communicate with healthcare providers. This breakthrough has the potential to further boost patient satisfaction levels and elevate NHS efficiencies to unprecedented heights. As I see it, over the next three years, CPaaS will close the digital gap and provide better service to patients across all health and care settings, following in the footsteps of the private sector where it is already being used to facilitate an ‘always on’, two-way engagement model at scale.

But what is CPaaS?

CPaaS enables NHS hospitals to add real-time communications features to their applications without needing to build backend infrastructure and interfaces. As such, patients can safely and securely communicate with their healthcare providers through their channel of choice – be that WhatsApp, Apple Messages for Business, Google Business Messaging, Facebook Messenger, or Instagram – making the ambition of anywhere, anytime, automated patient communications a reality, delivered via a single platform.

Organisations such as Smarty, Vodafone, Centrica and HMRC have already embraced CPaaS. Centrica successfully introduced a seamless, connected experience across SMS and WhatsApp Business in a bid to deflect enquiries to its phoneline. They were receiving huge numbers of inbound calls resulting in long waits and poor customer experience. Customers were prompted to switch their interaction to WhatsApp or SMS channels, reducing significant numbers of calls and also increasing their net promoter score.

This model of delivering communications through whichever channel a customer chooses, and entirely on their terms, is proven to reap significant benefits for many organisations – even those that traditionally struggle to get customers to engage. For example, in the debt-recovery sector, the use of CPaaS led to a 51% increase in responses from people behind on council tax payments in a single day. If this could be replicated with those patients who are frequent users of A&E and other services, and often wrongly labelled as hard-to-reach, the positive health benefits and cost savings to the NHS would be remarkable.

Communication experiences are disconnected

Different departments within a healthcare organisation are often not joined up. These departments commonly rely on different tools, providers, and channels when communicating with patients. Internally, this lack of integration hinders the smooth transfer of vital information as patient data and communication history fail to seamlessly flow from one department to the next. Externally, patients encounter a disjointed experience, as if they are engaging with distinct entities during each interaction. This lack of cohesion can lead to missed appointments and diminished patient satisfaction, both of which impact patient outcomes and impose financial burdens on the healthcare sector.

To address these challenges and create a more unified communication experience, healthcare providers can leverage cloud communications platforms. Serving as a centralised hub, a low-code/no-code communication platform allows healthcare providers to effectively manage patient interactions across all departments on any channel. CPaaS can integrate with existing clinical and administrative systems, including patient record providers such as Epic and Cerner, and enables the delivery of automated alerts, reminders, and interactive two-way chats. By offering patients the flexibility to communicate through their preferred channels, CPaaS offers a seamless and personalised experience throughout their healthcare journey.

Further to this, advanced CPaaS capabilities in automated intelligence, natural language processing, and natural language understanding can help NHS trusts streamline patient interactions and alleviate the burden on not only their employees but also their finances. Whether it’s handling a few patient queries or scaling up to thousands, chatbots can seamlessly address each inquiry simultaneously. Available 24/7, patients can engage with these virtual assistants outside of regular operating hours and from any location, ensuring accessibility to crucial information and advice. This round-the-clock availability results in a substantial boost in productivity, reduced inbound phone traffic, and shorter wait times, leading to significant cost savings and an overall more efficient experience for patients and providers.

CPaaS integration in the NHS

By leveraging CPaaS, the NHS can enhance patient communications and achieve cost and time saving benefits, a crucial objective for all NHS trusts. As a result, it offers a promising solution to tackling elective care backlogs and addressing staff shortages. CPaaS also presents a chance for the NHS to showcase its commitment to putting patients at the forefront of care, prioritising their overall experience and enhancing the security of their data.

Trust and security are arguably more important for healthcare providers than brands due to the personal and sensitive nature of information shared. Through multi-factor authentication the right CPaaS solution ensures communications are secure and compliant with data privacy rules and regulations, no matter which channel the person chooses.

CPaaS will need to integrate itself alongside the NHS App, and the plethora of patient engagement portals, to which Healthcare Communications is the market leader. I strongly believe it can, with patients driving their preferred channel, or multiple channels of choice, and therefore creating a seamless communication experience.