12th October 2023.

Person-centred thinking

A new way of thinking was developed in the late 1960s around the idea of patient-centred care, proposing that physicians began looking at patients as a whole person instead of just focusing on a single illness or injury. The International College of Person-centred Medicine describes person-centred care as a “medicine of the person, for the person, by the person, and with the person.”

Adopting this model by personalising care to the individual, and empowering patients to learn how to take care of themselves, needs to be at the top of NHS priorities in order to tackle growing waiting lists and other global healthcare challenges including an ageing population and a rise in chronic conditions.

According to the World Health Organisation, patient empowerment is now “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health”. Giving patients easy access to reliable and consistent support is essential to build up their confidence so they can have more responsibility over their own health, whether that is safely self-treating common symptoms, managing long term conditions or learning when it is necessary to seek medical help.

What does it mean to ‘activate’ a patient?

Patient activation is often used synonymously with empowerment, however in actual fact, activation is more specific and focuses on certain goals regarding their condition.

Let’s delve deeper into the components of patient activation:

Knowledge: Access to the right information to make educated decisions about their health.

Skills: Knowing how to self-care, from managing medications to modifying health behaviors.

Confidence: Believing in their ability to manage their health.

Motivation: A willingness to participate actively in healthcare decisions and a desire to make healthy choices.

Engagement: Active interaction with healthcare providers, including asking questions and participating in decision making.

Opening healthcare’s digital front door

Technology can provide the right tools to achieve these goals and drive personalised care. The NHS has been slowly and steadily integrating digital solutions to enhance patient engagement and foster a more patient-centric healthcare system, taking strides towards modernising healthcare by opening a “digital front door.” This concept represents a fundamental shift in how patients access and interact with services, making the patient experience more convenient, efficient, and patient-centric.

The digital front door is an overarching concept that combines a variety of platforms and technologies to create a seamless and accessible point of entry for patients into the system. It’s a strategic approach to healthcare delivery that engages patients at every touchpoint in their healthcare journey. And when executed effectively, the digital front door can enhance patient activation, engagement, communication, and satisfaction.

One key element of this strategy is Digital Health platforms such as portals, apps and websites that allow patients to access their health records, make appointments, and interact with their healthcare providers. These platforms can also provide access to comprehensive and accurate health information that empowers patients to make informed decisions about their care, as well as facilitate secure messaging so they can ask questions and seek advice, encouraging better patient-provider relationships.

Self-service appointment management that allows patients to schedule appointments, access real-time availability, and receive automated reminders, also gives patients more control whilst improving the efficiency of healthcare services. And finally, the digital front door wouldn’t be complete without virtual care options, enabling patients to have remote consultations from the comfort of their homes.

Let’s explore the benefits of the digital front door in the NHS:

Accessibility: Patients can access support and services 24/7, reducing the need for in-person visits.

Convenience: The digital front door streamlines administrative patient tasks like appointment scheduling and prescription refills, saving patients time and effort.

Improved Communication: Secure messaging and virtual care options enhance communication between a patient and their care team, leading to more personalised care.

Efficiency: Reduces the manual burden on admin staff, allowing them to focus more on patient care.

Patient-Centric: Empowers patients to take control of their health, promoting a more patient-centric system.

Transformation in action

13 million patients across the UK are actively using Healthcare Communications’ digital front door. Following a recent implementation of our Patient Engagement Portal at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS FT, 90% of patients surveyed said they would now recommend receiving appointment letters digitally, whilst the Trust saw cost savings equalling to £152,000 in the first year. At the same time, the introduction of 2-way SMS appointment reminders which enables patients to easily cancel or rebook their appointment saw an immediate reduction in DNA rates from 10% down to just 7%.

Speaking about improving patient experience with the rollout, Catherine Sowerby, Outpatient Transformation Programme Manager said: “The most important benefit for us is that it allows us to be much more patient-centric. For example, patients come in and sometimes have to do a pre-assessment questionnaire for surgery; they can do that at home now and send it in, rather than spend 30 to 40 minutes sitting in the hospital carrying out that process”.

Taking the next step with CPaaS

Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) unlocks the full potential of this transformative concept, by essentially serving as the glue that connects healthcare teams and patients by seamlessly enabling communication, engagement, and interaction. With CPaaS, healthcare organisations can create a unified and efficient communication ecosystem by managing all their cloud communications from one platform. It easily integrates with existing backend systems, and its low-code tools can help organizations save on costs, reduce complexity, and speed up their IT roadmaps. And when it comes to patient activation and digital front doors, CPaaS opens up a world of possibilities.

It enables multi-channel communication options such as SMS, voice calls, video calls, and email, making it effortless for patients to reach their providers. It can even automate appointment management, enhance patient education with personalised content, and facilitate virtual care appointments. And it doesn’t stop there; CPaaS ensures that all communication is secure, gathers valuable patient feedback, and even supports behavioral health initiatives. In emergency situations, it can deliver crucial alerts. Plus, its data integration capabilities with Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems ensure that healthcare decisions are well-informed, while its multilingual support ensures effective communication across diverse patient populations.

Changing the healthcare landscape

While the digital front door offers numerous benefits, it also presents challenges related to data security, accessibility for all patients regardless of their digital capability or data poverty, and the need for health literacy. So it’s essential for the NHS to ensure that no one is left behind and that the transition to a digital-first approach is inclusive and fair.

Opening the digital front door in the NHS is a monumental step towards transforming the healthcare landscape. It puts patients at the centre of their care, offers convenience and accessibility, and streamlines healthcare services, and even more importantly, people are eager to use it. The NHS App has over 30 million registrations and the NHS website saw 74 million visits a month on average in 2022. As technology continues to evolve, the digital front door is poised to become the standard for delivering healthcare services in the UK, offering a brighter, more patient-centric future for the NHS.