With increasing pressure on healthcare services and access to care becoming more restricted, the risk of a negative NHS patient experience is becoming more likely. The NHS Long Term Plan outlines how the digitisation of clinical care is necessary for patient satisfaction and service efficiency, but how does this translate into practice?

As you embark on your digital health journey, patient experience may arise as an issue you need to address. We investigate the different ways, both technology-related and non-technology related, to improve the patient experience within the healthcare sector.

Digital Improvements

1) Digital Communication Tools

Since the introduction of the NHS Long Term Plan, which outlines improvements to the NHS over the next 10 years, the use of digital communication tools has increased. SMS notifications are more frequent, patient portals have become the norm and appointment arrival kiosks are used in hospitals and practices worldwide.

Using technology such as patient portals, apps and SMS reminders fosters a positive communication flow between the health service and patient, improving the patient experience by demonstrating that all parties are invested in their care.

But it does not start and end with patient communication. The introduction of tech-centred communication tools in healthcare organisations ensures effective and efficient internal sharing of information.

2) Data Collection and Storage

By having centralised, potentially cloud-based data storage of medical records and treatment information, facilities can optimise staffing, reduce patient visit times and lower readmission rates. This not only improves patient experience but also reduces costs.

One of the critical factors to note here is that having a seamless system that interconnects medical records through every point of care improves patient satisfaction, the quality of care given and reduces time spent for staff.

For example, if ambulance staff could access the records of a patient they are treating, they could find important information such as previous health conditions and any allergies before they even reach the hospital. This gives a clearer picture for the staff and enables them to provide the best possible care to that patient.

3) Reduction of Potential Medical Errors

According to the NHS Patient Safety Strategy 2019, the cost of additional treatments following medical errors can reach up to £1 billion — money that health organisations may not be able to afford or could be better spent elsewhere.

Introducing digital methods to reduce medical errors can prevent incidents and increase patient safety, contributing to better patient satisfaction.

In the same NHS Strategy, they identify how electronic prescribing and medicines administration (EPMA) systems help reduce medication dispensing errors by eliminating human error. They also have the added benefit of automating the process and freeing up staff time.

In addition to this, technological advancements such as AI can help doctors triage diagnostic images quickly, without even seeing the patient in person. This helps doctors diagnose conditions earlier and increases the chance of a positive outcome.

4) Minimising NHS Waiting Times

One of the biggest issues for most patients is the wait times they face while trying to access care. Health organisations becoming stretched as a result as COVID-19 has only exacerbated this problem. 

The current wait time for a non-urgent referral through the NHS is 18 weeks. For a GP appointment, you may have to wait up to 10 days and the time actually spent in a hospital or practice room can vary.

These delays, along with other factors, is why more people have been dissatisfied with the NHS (41%) than satisfied for the first time since 2002, according to the 2021 British Social Attitudes survey.

Not only is this a frustration for patients, but it is also equally disruptive for medical staff and administration.

Registration kiosks are a quick digital fix for patient delays in the waiting room. These are increasingly becoming more common in hospitals and GP surgeries thanks to their ability to cut queue times and reduce the need for front desk staff.

However, it is not just about how long patients need to spend in waiting rooms. Investing in technology that facilitates virtual consultation increases the availability of appointments and can reduce the waiting time for consultation.

5) Remote Patient Monitoring and Expanding Care Access

If there is one positive we can take from COVID-19, it is that it fast-tracked the need for digital transformation to enable remote patient monitoring — something that has been an increasing necessity for patients to receive the care they need.

Using technology such as symptom trackers, virtual consultations, monitoring devices and patient dashboards gives patients, caregivers and medical professionals a holistic view of their wellbeing and condition.

In addition to this, with the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission and infection, the ability to access care remotely helps protect the vulnerable.

There is also the issue of patients finding a time to access care suitable for them. Jobs, location and wait times are all factors that can influence whether a patient can access the care they need. Moving healthcare services online goes some way towards solving this problem.

Non-Digital Improvements

6) Commitment to Patient Safety

One essential characteristic of any health organisation is its commitment to patient safety. When it comes to it, patient safety is paramount for both patients and healthcare staff.

The NHS Patient Safety Strategy focuses on all the steps and processes needed to help staff ensure patient safety, whether through technological advancements, increased funding, better reporting or clear communication.

Research in this strategy shows the NHS may fail to save up to 11,000 lives a year due to safety concerns and this needs to be addressed. By focusing on the topics discussed, paired with both digital and physical improvements, patient safety and satisfaction should be increased.

7) Open and Clear Communication

The effective flow of communication is crucial to ensure patient satisfaction and safety, as well as increase staff efficiency and reduce the cost of care.

The NHS has created an action plan that recommends they invest in patient-centred goals surrounding care conversations. If healthcare organisations show they are invested in a patient's care, whether that be a follow-up call from the doctor or a cohesive treatment plan, it all makes a positive difference.

8) Managing Patient Expectations

There is no doubt that health services all over the world are stretched to their limits, hindering their ability to meet patient expectations. Encouraging patient understanding is important, but showing you are working towards solutions in key areas is also necessary.

Spend the time to understand patient expectations so you can identify areas to improve and ways to achieve this.

How Technology Can Help You Improve Patient Experience

As we enter a new era of NHS digital transformation, there are many ways you can harness new technologies to improve the patient experience and healthcare staff capacity. With new challenges arising all the time and a post-pandemic world to contend with, the benefits that technology brings to your healthcare organisation could be life-changing.

Start by identifying areas for improvement — ways you could achieve these improvements and you will soon be on track to improving the patient experience.

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