Comment: Three ways the NHS can save money through pro-active communication

Ashish Koul, president of Acqueon, explores three ways in which the NHS could save money through pro-active communication techniques

It’s no secret the NHS is virtually at crisis point due to mounting costs, a reduced budget, and increasing demand from an aging population.

Years of austerity measures and financial constraints have resulted in cost-cutting programmes that have impacted patient services, leading to the entire system being put at risk.

Using existing attendance information, the NHS could be making smarter suggestions pro-actively to ensure better attendance and thus less wasted resources

To the casual observer, it might be difficult to imagine what else the NHS can do to improve services without a massive financial injection or further cost cutting. However, there are still changes that can be made that will improve services without adding further cost – and in some cases even reduce them.

Three options the NHS has around pro-active communication include:

Pinpointing pain points

We all take the NHS to heart and love it. However, the truth is that patients can be guilty of wasting resources and funds through less-than-ideal behaviour.

Not through accidental falls leading to broken bones, but rather through missing appointments and causing a ripple of unnecessary costs.

It might be a missed appointment that can be rescheduled to the patient, but to the NHS, it means receptionists, nurses, doctors, consultants, and facilities are all left unused or overburdened. In fact, last year missed appointments cost the NHS more than £1billion.

Much of this could have been avoided through better pro-active communication with patients.

On top of push notification systems that remind patients of upcoming appointments through text and phone (which are increasingly being used) the NHS could be making better use of data to make ‘smarter contact’ with patients.

Personalised weekly e-mails or texts including specific, customised suggestions can lead to positive lifestyle changes and reduce the growth of diseases such as diabetes, which cost the NHS huge amounts to treat

Sending a text to an 80-year-old in advance of an appointment probably isn’t the right decision. Instead, the type of communication to be used should be based on the patient’s preferences in order to ensure proper engagement.

This would enable, for example, appointment times to be tailored similarly. Offering a young adult an appointment at 8am on a Saturday might not be the wisest choice, whereas someone in another age group might be more likely to attend.

Using existing attendance information, the NHS could be making smarter suggestions pro-actively to ensure better attendance and thus less wasted resources.

A bitter pill to swallow

Another area which causes unnecessary waste to the NHS is medication non compliance – the cost alone is over £500m a year, and it also leads to some 22,000 unnecessary deaths a year.

Unused medication is a huge problem because it is a wasted resource that is potentially very costly. The other side of the coin is the massively-increased costs of treatment due to complications when medication isn’t taken correctly.

Missing pills, or taking them at the wrong intervals, can completely mar their efficacy, result in contra-indications when drugs are not taken as directed, or lead to relapse – meaning longer recovery times and potentially-worse outcomes for patients.

To better manage both these challenges the NHS should be looking to pro-actively remind patients when and how to take medication.

The result is reduced wastage and improved patient treatment. It can be achieved by using everything from simple text reminders – all the way to an IoT connected pillbox and automated check-ups from staff via telephone, e-mail or social media if necessary.

Preventative care

As the old adage states, prevention is better than cure – and although better treatment outcomes are one thing, another way the NHS can make further savings is by keeping patients healthy in the first place.

Just reducing the missed appointment black hole and improving medication non compliance could save the NHS £1.5billion – a huge difference in a time when budgets are tight

The NHS has access to huge swathes of data on citizens that can be used to pro-actively inform people of potential lifestyle changes to improve their health and reduce the risks of them falling ill in the first place.

If done sympathetically, automatically informing patients about these changes could make a huge dent in costs in the long term.

Personalised weekly e-mails or texts including specific, customised suggestions can lead to positive lifestyle changes and reduce the growth of diseases such as diabetes, which cost the NHS huge amounts to treat.

The NHS is doing everything it can to curb costs and to avoid putting services at risk it should be looking at ways in which digital platforms can enable pro-active communications to educate patients and help it become more efficient.

By using pro-active outbound channels more effectively, it can help to effect some of these changes.

Just reducing the missed appointment black hole and improving medication non compliance could save the NHS £1.5billion – a huge difference in a time when budgets are tight.

In addition, helping patients to become healthier could have an even bigger long-term impact and help safeguard the NHS long into the future.

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