Freshworks head of account management and public sector, John Kelly, explores the impact of COVID-19 on digitisation within the health sector.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that patients need fast response times to discuss health concerns, wherever they are, on whatever platform. Meeting shifting citizen expectations requires more than just ‘business as usual’. According to analysis by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey, the adoption of telehealth has exploded, from 11% of consumers using it in 2019 to 46% in April 2020.
This example demonstrates the seismic shift in how consumers interact with healthcare providers – and this year certainly revealed the impact of technology as an enabler of healthcare continuity. Easy-to-use, anywhere-anytime access and scalable solutions that positively impact operational efficiency and cost savings, will be what healthcare practices and NHS Trusts have to implement to keep up in 2021 and beyond.
In this piece, I will explore in depth how the healthcare system can keep moving with new technologies and cloud-based functionality so that staff can respond to citizens, and employee needs swiftly and safely.
When it comes to digital GP appointments in particular, there is still an element of mistrust of technology as many patients still feel more comfortable with in-person consultations, despite the pandemic. In fact, a recent report published in the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) found that there is an urgent need to restore public trust in general practice and remote consulting following months of negative media coverage.
How can trust be repaired? Technology in itself is not the silver bullet to better patient care of course, but when used and implemented correctly, it can transform the patient experience for the better, right from booking the appointment to the appointment itself. Chatbots and other automated self-service mechanisms that act as frontline support for information gathering, 24/7 response times and directing the patient to the right person, can increase efficiency and allow citizens to get faster response times on their queries. Moreover, any technology capable of augmenting the human effort and enabling healthcare providers to ultimately provide a better service should be looked upon favourably. Ultimately, trust can be improved when services are fast, seamless and easy to use.
It all starts with collaboration
We need to remember that some organisations in the NHS are limited due to budget constraints; and furthermore, that healthcare providers may be forgiven for not knowing where to start when it comes to implementing new technologies. The public health environment is a complex one and is made up of various agencies and departments delivering a wide range of services. Whilst the need to deploy a citizen-centric approach in the health service will be widely accepted, the challenge resides in achieving this across multiple departments and at present, remote and disparate teams.
With this in mind, any vendor that assists NHS organisations at this time will need to offer more than just the technology itself. They will need to offer counsel and advice of how staff can be mobilised to collaborate remotely, and indeed how any organisational siloes can be broken down which may impede collaboration and communication between staff and different departments. The key to digital transformation and delivery of a customer-centric service has to start with a robust framework to analyse customer service needs and deliverables and understand the necessary business processes, service design and people aspects to execute any transformation strategy.
The rollout of a new technology platform will only be as good as the business processes and the teams that work behind it; and technology vendors need to work in alignment with these project dimensions with measures such as relevant consultation sessions, education and onboarding solutions to get maximum benefit from the technology itself.
Investing in the right technology
I have talked about the need for trust and collaboration to be embedded into healthcare organisations prior to any new technology rollout. But what of the actual technology itself, and what is out there for healthcare organisations to consider when it comes to delivering the best outcomes for patients?
The first thing to consider is a simple yet powerful ITSM solution, which can be set up with no engineers and lengthy onboarding processes. Solutions that offer multi-channel support, workflow automation and powerful analytics all accessible on one interface, can give hospital IT staff the seamless service and visibility they need to better meet patient demands.
Cloud-based software that streamlines all customer conversations into one place, automates repetitive work and saves time on things like first reply time or average call handle time, is an absolute must in this time where phones are ringing off the hook and patients may have more questions in the absence of being able to visit GPs and hospitals physically.
Many healthcare providers in the USA have been turning to instant chat services during the pandemic. During such unprecedented times, healthcare providers could engage patients on social messengers such as WhatsApp, where surges in inquires could be handled using chatbots to automate routine responses and triage cases with ease. This is exactly the kind of instant technology that healthcare organisations in the UK can keep using more readily in final stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Digital transformation in healthcare is here to stay
COVID-19 has certainly forced digital transformation upon healthcare organisations at a speed they would have previously thought unimaginable. And whilst some patients and indeed healthcare staff still value in-person interaction above virtual appointments, there is no doubt that patient demands have shifted in terms of how they expect to be communicated with, on what channel, and when by.
The key to ensure robust digital transformation for 2021 is to build on the lessons learned during the pandemic, create trust with citizens and ensure collaborations between different healthcare teams is able to flourish. From here, new technology can be successfully implemented, resulting in a more productive workforce, and ultimately, a happier patient.
Head of account management and public sector