At the end of 2017-18, the NHS had a budget deficit of £960m, £464m higher than the target for the year.
The NHS Improvement Report attributed this deficit to an unexpectedly large demand for healthcare services, and a contributing factor was the NHS’s failure to communicate with its patients effectively. This year alone, 2.9 million patients across England missed their outpatient appointments; this alone cost the NHS £346 million.
Some organisations within the NHS use SMS messaging to notify patients of changes to their appointments. With the proliferation of communication channels and devices available, interactions relying on a single channel are clearly too limited to deliver effective communications.
Patients should be able to determine their channel of choice for how they interact with organisations and how those organisations interact with them. Healthcare providers are no exception.
Different demographics prefer to use different channels of communication. Older patients may be in favour of receiving letters, while younger patients may respond better to emails or text messages. Patients who primarily rely on a foreign language for everyday communication may prefer expressing themselves in written form; the ability to rephrase and correct their messages allows them to better express themselves and gives them confidence that they are getting their point across.
Enabling patients to contact the NHS using channels they feel most comfortable with will make them more likely to notify care providers of changes to their scheduled appointments. This small change could save the NHS millions of pounds in wasted resources attributable to missed appointments, and would substantially improve patient engagement and satisfaction.