26th April 2021

Slow starter to global sensation

The idea of SMS (Short Message Service) was first developed in 1984, but it wasn’t until 1999 that people could send a message to a mobile phone outside of their network, and this is when things really took off. Within a year texting had become a mainstream communication method, going on to become a global phenomenon by 2002, with 250 billion messages sent worldwide. However, although usage numbers have remained resilient, SMS has been disappointingly lacking in innovation and development since those early days. It is also vulnerable to manipulation by cybercriminals for fraudulent activity such as phishing, where texts are designed to steal personal or financial information by pretending to be a reputable organisation, or getting you to download malware to your phone.

That’s where internet-based “over-the-top” (OTT) services like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger came in, catching up with the popularity and volumes of SMS by 2013 by demonstrating new and exciting advancements. These apps allowed for much easier and feature-rich interactions, including read notifications, the ability to sync with desktop apps, and sending messages without any network signal or for free when you are abroad.

Going way beyond simple messaging capabilities

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is telecommunication’s response, backed by GSMA, to the evolution of these messaging apps. It offers a parallel experience, but with even more intelligent features, and does not require the hinderance of having to download an app.

Businesses around the world have rolled out these messaging services, allowing them to deliver creative and frictionless customer experiences in a setting that users are completely familiar with. Using intuitive AI, a few quick taps on the screen and a customer can have a full conversation with a brand. This could be getting answers to queries, arranging a delivery, or actually making a 1 click purchase directly within the message.

Tapping into healthcare communication transformation

Users of Rich Communication Services (RCS) are set to more than double by 2025 – from 1.2 billion in 2020, to 3.9 billion by 2025 (Juniper Research) – but how can this tool be used to benefit the healthcare sector?

In an increasingly ‘on demand’ world, NHS Trusts need to be able to connect with every patient demographic while ensuring that their communications can be received and read as quickly as possible. To do this, digital channels such as SMS and IVRs are being adopted at pace – even more rapidly over the past 12 months due to the pressures of the pandemic –  to help relieve strain on admin staff, and provide a quicker and more convenient way of delivering information to the public.

The more options you give a patient to engage with their health, the more successful the outcomes and the better the patient satisfaction. RCS brings the familiarity patients have with social media and personal messaging to their healthcare, whilst the Verified Sender feature and branding options gives them the assurance they are not receiving a scam message. In a recent experiment, a high street pharmaceutical brand switched from SMS to RCS and found that by asking the customer to just ‘tap’ Yes rather than having to type out the word, they improved their repeat prescriptions by 100%.

Chatbots and virtual assistants have been hugely beneficial over the past year in supporting staff and relieving some of their workload. From long term condition support to appointment rescheduling, they provide the real time connection that patients expect as consumers. This automation can be leveraged to work alongside staff and provide assistance, freeing them to concentrate on more complex issues that need human intervention. AI technology can also help Trusts automatically identify patient pain points and evaluate patient satisfaction, such as this example where a chatbot was combined with RCS to execute a PX survey.

RCS can be implemented in healthcare to improve communication quality and automate a multitude of manual processes:

  • Delivery and read receipts – See if the recipient has opened and read the message, and delve deeper into the analytics than previously possible
  • Verified sender – Remove the risk of fraud and eradicate spam to create much-needed trust in health communications
  • Branding – Tailor the sender section with NHS Trust font and colours, and include the organisation logo to reassure patients that contact is coming from a legitimate source
  • Image and video – Including multimedia content creates a more engaging experience and can easily demonstrate hard to understand medical jargon
  • Carousels – Give patients various options such as appointment dates and times, or consultation types with dynamic images to create a more visually appealing interaction
  • QR codes – Empower a smoother check in process with QR codes sent directly to a patient’s pocket
  • Location sharing – Send directions and include where you are on a map, making it easier for people to find the right department in complicated hospital layouts or new centres
  • Schedule appointments – Allow patient to book or rearrange a consultation by giving a calendar or a carousel of options, dramatically reducing unnecessary inbound calls
  • Respond to queries and issues – Solve problems instantly, and allow patients and clinician/virtual assistant to share photos or videos to communicate more effectively

Providing an effortless patient experience

Offering patients the latest health tech demonstrates a commitment to providing the best care journey possible. For example, when it is clinically appropriate, post-surgery is an ideal situation for patients to be placed on a Patient Initiated Follow Ups (PIFU) pathway, allowing the patient to manage their own recovery without having to attend routine check-ups unless needed. If the patient does need to access support they can easily initiate contact via an RCS message, avoiding annoying app downloads or long call wait times, and respond to pre-set questions with a few taps on a phone as well as the ability to include a real time image of their wound. Their answers are then instantly returned to the hospital for review, making it a quick and hassle free experience for both the patient and their clinicians. To see a demo of this uncomplicated interaction, click here.

It’s well known that DNAs (Did Not Attends ie. missed appointments) costs the NHS a considerable amount of money every year, and reducing these losses are a high priority particularly at the moment when every slot is even more precious. One proven method of tackling this issue is the implementation of appointment reminders, which can be done as soon as the appointment is made and again at a configured date nearer the date, giving the Trust enough time to successfully fill any free slots created by cancellations.

Once an appointment is made, the organisation can send a confirmation message including the date and time of the appointment, with a photo of the hospital or team and an integrated map providing the location to ensure there are no delays or issues on the day. The patient can also choose to automatically add the appointment to their own calendar, which is another element helping to reduce the likelihood of a missed appointment. Even more impressively, if the patient needs to cancel or rearrange the appointment they can do so with a tap or two of their phone screen. See how one patient reschedules their appointment in just 2 taps, and is then provided with a QR code for a smooth check in.  Following this automatic selection the updated date and time would be fed directly into the NHS service’s system.

If that’s not enough, RCS can also enable Trusts to instantly answer routine patient queries and deliver essential material such as test results or pre-attendance instructions, as well as self-care advice and recovery support videos. You can see a demo of this use case here. The advantages of this technology for healthcare communications have only just started to be uncovered and it has the potential to do so much more.

So, what’s next?

With all the benefits of RCS, does it mean sending a simple text will become a thing of the past? We think this is unlikely due to the fact that SMS has stayed popular for over 20 years and is still convenient for basic messaging by those who are not hugely digitally enabled. However, as high patient engagement is proven to lead to better health outcomes, it is time to discover the art of the possible for your interactions, and reimagine new approaches where services can be instantly and easily accessed. As we continue to manage the majority of our lives from our devices, and NHS services become increasingly digitized, it’s vital that healthcare stays ahead of the transformation curve and allows patients to benefit from the freedom of accessing care in the same way.


To find out more about implementing ABC and RCS technology at your Trust, get in touch on 0845 9000 890 or email enquiries@healthcomm.uk.