Video consultation with ipad

The digital transformation of healthcare services had been on a slow and steady course in recent years, until the pandemic exposed the vulnerability in existing processes and forced progressive change.

16th February 2021

Gathering patient experience information is more important than ever. Since the Friends and Family Test (FFT) was launched in 2013, more than 75 million pieces of anonymous feedback have been submitted on whether patients are happy with the service provided, or where improvements are needed – making it the biggest source of patient opinion in the world.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, NHS England advised Trusts that they could pause their FFT processes. At the same time, healthcare organisations had to quickly implement virtual care technology to keep people connected as the sudden onset of Covid-19 meant they could not come into hospitals. Therefore, patients have not had much chance to participate in the digital development of their own care. The relationship between healthcare technology and patient satisfaction is central to this evolution.

A year on, and the benefits of virtual care are becoming increasingly clear to both patients and NHS staff. Now we know it has the potential to improve the UK population’s access and engagement with their own health, while allowing hospitals to quickly deliver digital communications and get valuable information straight into the hands of more patients than ever before. As we begin to emerge from this global crisis, new ways of managing patient care journeys continue to be embedded in NHS services.

‘Overall, how was your experience of our service?’ is the new standard question that was launched in April 2020, however the pandemic prevented many Trusts from having the time to utilise the new guidance to redesign their PX measurement procedures. What is profoundly important now is that organisations still deliver on the goal of patient centeredness and use their patient’s views to help them offer not just care, but actual caring.

Why virtual care feedback is critical

Although video appointments were used pre-Covid, reports show that the past 12 months have dramatically highlighted their capability to be more valuable than face to face in many circumstances. Valuable capacity also opens up for those patients where in-person appointments are needed, during a time when waiting lists are worryingly long. Patients have also indicated that they prefer the convenience of logging on for a virtual consultation from wherever they are instead of having to spend time and money travelling, and risk being exposed to infection in hospital waiting rooms.

However, it is essential that all possible steps are taken to reduce clinical risk, and patients are still receiving the meaningful care they need, particularly in complex cases. This can only be truly measured by collecting patient feedback and monitoring health outcomes. The FFT question becomes a crucial enabler to uncover improvement hotspots of new virtual care journeys.

Activating patients to collaborate in their care plan

Patient Initiated Follow Ups (PIFU), previously known as Open Access or Discharge SOS (Seen on Symptom), are also being adopted throughout the NHS as part of the Covid-19 recovery guidance, removing unnecessary routine visits to hospitals. Instead, patients are placed on a pathway where they can initiate an appointment when they really need it, for example if their condition worsens or they have a flare up. It’s again vital that this process does not put any patient in danger (for instance they may not recognise changes in their condition) therefore guidance on their new role in the driving seat of their healthcare, and escalation points, need to be established. Additionally, it’s important to ensure PIFU does not negatively affect the way patients perceive their access to support, by surveying patient satisfaction the same if not more than any other type of treatment.

The acceleration of Remote Monitoring

The substantial benefits of Remote Monitoring (RM), where remote health checks are transferred from patient to clinician using a device, have meant this pathway is also increasing. Similarly, to PIFU, reports show that this method also allows for longer intervals between hospital visits, giving the patient a more convenient and satisfactory experience of their care. However, to safeguard patients and guarantee the performance of this method only improves, RM needs to be factored into Trust’s patient experience planning.

Your FFT pathways checklist

  • Are you collecting feedback from virtual & telephone consultations as well as remote monitoring services and can these comments be analysed in isolation?
  • How are you planning to collect service feedback from patient-initiated appointments? What frequency will you survey patients on a PIFU pathway, who have not yet been in touch?
  • Are your surveys socially inclusive? With the rapid pivot to digital first and the reduction in paper surveys due to Covid-19, is EVERY patient still given the opportunity to provide service feedback? Are patients where English is a second language, able to read the question in their first language?

As we get to grips with these rapidly evolving pathways, gathering quality patient feedback is critical. PX needs to go back to being a vital part of a trust’s day to day focus, so hospitals can see the same benefits they always have – the identification of key areas for development. Especially at a time when new ways of working are being implemented, it is essential that patient’s views can be collected effectively to be actioned as soon as possible.

Data submission of FFT feedback resumed from December 2020 for acute and community providers, which will be published in February 2021. As this is a tool for continuous improvement, it is important that organisations can gather, process, and report on this data in the most efficient way possible. Innovative patient experience platforms are no longer a should have, they are a must have.

While COVID-19 has had devastating effects on countless levels, one thing we have learned from it is how to cope with the sudden demands it created, and we cannot return to old and inefficient methods. Being led by change, and then adapting and evolving accordingly, has helped the NHS to embrace technology-enhanced services which help front line clinicians react quickly and deliver care in better ways, revolutionising experiences for patients.

The past 12 months have challenged almost every aspect of our daily lives, with healthcare delivery and the experiences of patients and their families being a large part of it. As things stablilise we need to ensure that the commitment to patient-centred care is not compromised with operationalized empathy and the honouring of PX data collection guidance.


Healthcare Communications are the platform of choice for many NHS Trusts, collecting 50% of all outpatient feedback. Streamlined and socially inclusive surveys give every patient a voice with the ability to convert digital text to 99 languages in 1 click, read aloud in their chosen language, as well as increase font size or highlight for visually impaired patients. Multi-channel communications automatically switch if contact is not made, ensuring that ALL patients can share their opinions, regardless of digital ability or access, and improving engagement.

The HC Envoy PX platform is specifically designed to capture NHS patient feedback from the aforementioned channels in real time. Users can instantly review responses and key metrics on a secure, user friendly dashboard, and real time alerts flag critical issues to staff in the moment. Time and location comparison reports help to delve deeper and understand the impact of day or shift and service variances between departments. This encourages learning from best practice and highlights team efforts, while the Action Plan function assign actions to staff and tracks outcomes.

To find out more about implementing an inclusive, digital-first Patient Experience strategy with Healthcare Communications, email or call 0845 9000 890.