Successful NHS patient care is hugely reliant on its procedures and strategies. The more efficient these are, the better the outcomes and experiences of a service. Every point on a patient’s care journey involves at least one form of administration, such as appointment booking, patient records, test results and much more. With over 1 million people using NHS services every day, it’s vital that the interactions are as well organised and available as they can be, particularly at such a challenging time for both patients and staff.

Acknowledging the frustrations to drive change

Many of us have, at times, been frustrated when trying to access healthcare, usually because of outdated or difficult processes acting as a barrier to gaining the information or care we’re looking for. Digital options are no longer a could or should have, they’re a must have, and no organisation can function in 2021 without a strong digital foundation.

For people who have contact with NHS services regularly, such as those with long term health conditions, unsatisfactory interactions can dramatically effect treatment outcomes as well as overall experience. The Kings Fund recently reported that ‘a small number of people related experiences in which they felt admin errors or shortcomings had significant consequences for their health outcomes’.

Examples given in the report showed a patient’s dismay at a lack of post-test communication and information, and another who struggled with the stress and exasperation of unexplained and last-minute cancelled appointments. Not being able to easily get in touch with someone who could help when these problems arose was also a strong source of dissatisfaction. This highlights the importance of patients trusting in the reliability of their healthcare communications, which can be easily addressed through the use of digital.

Improved quality of work for staff, and quality of care for patients

Digital first, multi-channel communication is key as it allows information to be passed in a much timelier manner than previously possible, whilst ensuring patients who aren’t digitally enabled are not forgotten about. SMS and two-way messaging can be used for automatically scheduling, rebooking, cancelling and reallocating appointments, or chatbots and virtual assistants give them an opportunity to instantly gain responses to queries instead of wasting time searching for the correct phone number and waiting in long call queues. This rapid improvement to information sharing can create a better, safer environment for all which has been shown time and time again, particularly through the difficult past year and a half during the pandemic.

Investing in AI, robotic process automation (RPA) and other tech provides fantastic benefits that will not only be appreciated by patients, but also greatly reduce the amount of repetitive, mundane tasks and other unnecessary burdens on NHS staff, allowing them to concentrate on being the faces of the organisation and caring for patients. It is suggested that nearly half of NHS admin tasks could be automated, and that this uptake of digital solutions would improve staff wellbeing and work life balance, while increasing productivity and time management.  Implementing Single-Sign-On (SSO) is one project which could revolutionise internal process, saving valuable time and making life so much easier for employees.

Listening to a variety of valuable insights can do wonders to transform NHS processes

Harnessing patient experience feedback is incredibly important when making best use of modern technologies and developing the most effective practices. The Cancer Patient Experience Survey is one of the only questionnaires that asks patients to ‘rate the administration of care’, with recent analysis concluding that ‘focusing improvement efforts on care administration and coordination has potential to improve overall satisfaction with oncological care across diverse patient groups/care pathways’. Gathering feedback on this aspect of a healthcare journey is crucial for organisations to highlight pain points, and utilise insights to create patient-centric admin.

Co-designing developments with tech providers allows ideas to be shared between organisations and experts to find the most effective strategies, by sharing specific problems at ward, department, or Trust level and then working together to find an answer. For example, automating appointment letter processes has been proven to reduce the likelihood of human clerical error such as incorrect or missed print outs.  Healthcare should be as easy as any other admin activity we do online, and for this reason the NHS can look out to the wider tech world for inspiration on new technologies to adopt themselves.

Integrated care systems (ICSs) are also playing their part to better understand different perspectives with the goal of improving care, helping organisations to best meet the needs of their regions and more specific areas. This, alongside their essential work with NHS Trusts to remove healthcare silos and better integrate services, will help to create ‘best practice’ methods of doing things and consistency for staff and patients alike.

Perfecting administration fundamentals is key to propelling transformation and enhancing patient experience

Patients are now taking more responsibility in their own care and digital tools enable care providers to work in partnership with them to improve their health, moving away from the transactional service model and instead towards a relationship with shared accountability.

Superior admin processes, that take on a user perspective during development, with accessible and easy to use communication channels can dramatically improve experience and outcomes whilst reducing inequalities during a widening digital divide.

Additionally, allowing staff to be supported by smart structures improves their wellbeing and working environment. Once an organisation can get the fundamentals right, they are in the best place to drive transformation, and embrace the future of healthcare.