As we head into the latter part of 2023, the UK is facing numerous challenges in delivering a healthcare system that meets the needs of its population. Here, Denise Williamson, Managing Director of Bookwise Solutions looks at technology’s role in delivering on patient experience and making it a top priority.
The Challenges Facing the UK Healthcare Sector in 2023
By 2024–25, NHS funding will be 2.9% higher than pre-pandemic budgets, and whilst this is a considerable sum at almost £5 billion extra, the NHS still faces significant cost pressures. In fact, 80% of people believe that the NHS is facing a ‘major’ funding problem and 46% of people attribute staff shortages to their overall dissatisfaction.
According to the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust, there has been a slight decrease in overall satisfaction with the NHS since 2020. Campaigns like “Clap for Carers” during national lockdowns had a massive boost on the public perception of the NHS and it is hoped a move to a more digital NHS will enhance patient experience and satisfaction further.
The pandemic has only expedited the delivery of digital-enabled healthcare, which has, in turn, undoubtedly affected patient experience too.
The Role of Technology in Revolutionising Healthcare
Deloitte’s ‘Digital Transformation: Shaping the future of European healthcare’ report showed that almost 80% of UK clinicians surveyed were using technology to provide more effective ways of engaging with patients – predominantly by enabling remote appointments.
Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems give doctors, nurses and patients instant access to patient information while telemedicine is allowing patients to consult with healthcare professionals remotely, and wearable devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers are delivering a remote diagnostic capability. Some hospitals in the UK are also using real-time patient feedback systems, such as automated surveys or interactive touchscreens to improve delivery of clinical healthcare.
To be truly successful, trusts will need back-end processes that cope too, and better than that, improve the patient experience and efficiency to ensure our resources are being used most effectively to meet growing demand.
A large proportion of NHS Trusts, for example, have been managing demand for outpatient clinics by using spreadsheets or even paper diaries.
As requests for more Patient Initiated Follow-up (PIFU) based pathways have increased, it has become increasingly difficult to cope with the complex and quickly changing nature of the ways clinic rooms are being used, especially with virtual formats such as video or phone call consultations to factor in too.
Efficient Back-End Processes for a Better Patient Experience
Wye Valley NHS Trust had been taking steps to facilitate more virtual clinics before the pandemic struck – it wanted to save time for many of its patients who lived in remote or rural areas, and create a system that met the real demand.
With numerous departments based at Hereford County Hospital and community clinical sites across the county, managing its rooms was already complicated. With ambitions to create even more additional clinics when needed, alongside phone call and video appointments, room booking software supported it to gain transparency over the use of each room in each site with a time-based room booking system.
This supported them to crystalise clinic timetables, which meant that consultants were better supported, and in turn it gave patients a much better experience. Their outpatients department went from 76% to 96% capacity just two months after using specialised outpatient room booking software, to log, monitor and act on their real-time room data.
West London NHS Trust had similar success in Ealing Hospital by taking a look at the way they book appointments in Radiology. They found that by giving individual appointment times rather than group booking times they were able to reduce the diagnostic stage of a patient’s journey from 19 weeks to 2 weeks over a 5 month period, and waiting times for scanning reduced from six weeks to three weeks.
Addressing Challenges in the NHS
PIFU appointments, virtual clinics and widespread community hubs have the potential to improve the patient experience, and are beginning to be widely used by many trusts. However, the department’s back-end systems must support the level of flexibility, adaptability and real-time accuracy needed to make it work – for the patient, and clinical teams.
As the NHS celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is important to recognise the potential of technology in enhancing patient care and satisfaction. By embracing innovative solutions and investing in digital transformation, the UK healthcare sector can overcome its challenges and build a healthcare system that truly meets the needs of its population.
From managing outpatient clinics and supporting virtual appointments, to reducing administrative burdens and enabling wider access to healthcare services. It all leads to a more patient-centered approach, and better overall healthcare experience.