21st June 2024. 

In the evolving landscape of patient communications, the NHS is continually seeking innovative solutions to improve engagement and streamline processes. Rich Communication Services (RCS) is an ingenious technology with many beneficial features, including suggested replies and action buttons which both stand out for their potential to simplify interactions and improve efficiency for both patients and staff. 

What are Suggested Replies and Action Buttons? 

RCS, the evolution of SMS, brings a richer and more interactive messaging experience. Suggested replies are pre-defined response options that patients can select with a single tap, making interactions quicker and more straightforward. Action buttons are interactive elements within a message that trigger specific actions, such as confirming an appointment or accessing a webpage, saving the patient further time and effort with a clear next step. 

Use Case: Appointment Management 

One of the most common and obvious applications of these features is in appointment scheduling and reminders. For instance, when a patient receives an appointment reminder, the message can include suggested replies such as “Confirm,” “Reschedule,” or “Cancel.” If the patient chooses to reschedule, an action button can lead them directly to a calendar interface where they can select a new date and time, or alternative options can be provided directly within the message with buttons to choose with just 1 tap. This reduces the back-and-forth communication sometimes required to manage appointments, often over the phone after waiting in long call queues. This not only saves time for both patients and staff, but it also helps to minimise DNAs by giving patients convenient ways to rearrange or cancel, ensuring better utilisation of resources and reducing wasted slots. 

Use Case: Nudging behaviours  

Call-to-action buttons can help encourage desired behaviours by simplifying the steps to engage with services. Recent NHS breast screening figures from 2022-23 show that, despite a slight increase in uptake from the previous year, over a third of women still do not attend. In that one year, 18,942 women were diagnosed and able to seek treatment because they attended these appointments, so we know it is crucial to improve this number. Using RCS for invites to screening services for conditions like breast cancer can benefit immensely from an action button to “Book Now” so women can be instantly connected to a booking system, removing barriers to scheduling and potentially saving lives through early detection. 

Another powerful application is in sexual health services, where patients may feel hesitant to seek help. An anonymous chatbot can provide a safe space for asking sensitive questions, with action buttons linking directly to appropriate and important resources, or directly to booking an appointment to get treatment. This ease of access can increase the likelihood of patients seeking timely support, improving overall health outcomes. 

Use Case: Patient Experience Feedback  

Gathering patient feedback is essential for improving healthcare services, and RCS can step up to support engagement by sending post-appointment surveys with suggested replies like “Good,” “Average,” or “Poor,” followed by action buttons to provide more detailed feedback if necessary. This streamlined approach can encourage higher response rates and provide valuable insights without overwhelming patients with lengthy forms or putting barriers in the way with suspicious links. Hospitals are not only giving their patients a voice to make important data-driven improvements, but it also ensures potential patient safety issues themes are highlighted to be urgently addressed.  

Use Case: Patient Education 

NHS organisations frequently need to run health campaigns or share educational content with their patients. RCS can enhance these initiatives by sending interactive messages with action buttons that lead to detailed articles, videos, or self-care resources. Suggested replies such as “Interested” “Remind Me Later” or “Learn More” can help hospitals gauge patient interest and engagement. Patients benefit from receiving personalised information that is directly relevant them in an easily accessible format, straight in their normal messaging inbox, promoting better health literacy and proactive health management. 

 

Why patients love it! 

Convenience: Suggested replies and action buttons make interactions quick and easy, reducing the effort required to communicate with their care teams. 

Clarity: Clear, predefined options minimise confusion, ensuring patients understand their choices and can respond appropriately. 

Engagement: Interactive elements keep patients more engaged, promoting better adherence to treatment and appointments. 

 

How it serves your staff.

Efficiency: Automation of routine communications reduces the manual burden on staff, allowing them to focus on more complex patients and tasks. 

Accuracy: Predefined responses help maintain accurate records of patient interactions, improving data quality and decision-making. 

Patient Satisfaction: Improved communication leads to higher patient satisfaction scores, as patients experience a more user-friendly interaction with their hospital.

 

By making interactions more intuitive and efficient, these features not only enhance patient engagement and satisfaction but also streamline admin workflows. As the NHS continues to adopt digital advancements, RCS stands out as a valuable tool in transforming how healthcare is delivered and experienced, ultimately contributing to better outcomes and more effective services.