Communication breakdown will damage integrated healthcare

Jacob Haddad, CEO and co-founder of Accurx, argues that a systemwide breakdown in communication will hold back integrated digital healthcare

The recent arrival of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) marks a step change in the NHS and how it’s structured. After decades of attempts at integration, these new statutory entities will be tasked with getting services back on track, tackling growing health inequalities and crucially, delivering integrated care for the populations they serve. But they will only succeed if NHS staff across services are given the ability to easily communicate with each other and their patients to join up care.

We believe that healthcare is now a communication industry, and easy communication - to patients and between healthcare professionals - is key to delivering integrated care. 

Since our inception in 2016, we’ve been incredibly grateful to spend lots of our time shadowing NHS staff, and we’ve seen first-hand the challenges they face, which invariably all come back to communication. The phones ring non-stop, inbound messages come from different sources, letters take a week to arrive and often need to be coded into medical systems, and it can take months for contact between different services for advice, referrals and more. Healthcare staff spend huge amounts of their time trying to coordinate care and communicate across settings, but this is often fragmented and laborious, impacting staff engagement, time wasted and patient dissatisfaction - some of the biggest challenges facing the NHS today. 

To truly empower staff to deliver integrated care for patients, we need to transform the way they’re able to communicate and collaborate on patient information in one place, so they can work cross-functionally across services as one effective team. 

But we can’t achieve this unless key communication challenges are addressed. 

Disconnected healthcare services

Healthcare is delivered by teams across services, which is why providing care requires many levels of communication. Healthcare staff spend their time consulting patients, referring them, getting second opinions and coordinating care across services. Healthcare staff need the means to communicate and collaborate as one team, around a patient.

But this is made incredibly challenging by outdated and fragmented routes of communication - including postal letters, calling switchboards and leaving voicemails - which also don’t record the conversations anywhere for others involved in care to see. 

ICSs should focus on procuring simple, system-wide tech solutions that enable communication between services, and better access to patient information, so healthcare staff can more easily collaborate as a team for patients. 

As Trusts grapple with growing waiting lists, simple and intuitive technology that fits into existing workflows can help frontline staff communicate faster and more easily with patients, like remote consultations and SMS messaging. Applied to a whole ICS, this could deliver significant time savings for staff and better connect services, leading to better workforce morale alongside shorter wait times and improved patient satisfaction. 

 

No single source of truth for communication in healthcare

Healthcare staff spend huge amounts of time chasing up patient information, which is often documented and inputted into EPRs and record systems, but isn’t easily accessible to them when they need it. We believe the information potential stored in health records can’t be properly realised unless they are able to be shared and used collaboratively across teams. It’s why we built Record View, our nationally available patient record sharing solution, so healthcare staff don’t need to rely on patients repeating themselves or carrying around a folder of letters to explain their journey so far. 

ICSs should focus on providing frontline staff with ways to quickly access and update the information in records. Having one single source of truth for all communication with and about a patient will help inform key clinical decisions, provide more consistency and patient awareness of their care, and transform the way healthcare is delivered.

 

Patient care goes far beyond appointments 

Face to face appointments will always be an essential part of healthcare. But safe and effective care can and does happen outside of appointments, and we believe this can be applied to more parts of the health system than it is currently. 

In a time where the backlog of patients waiting for elective care has reached 6.5mn with over 320,000 patients waiting more than a year for treatment once they’ve been referred, we must take the lessons learnt both from implementing triage across general practice, and from the growth of digital solutions during the pandemic, and apply it across the NHS and ICSs in particular. 

Triaging in general practice shows how opening up the communication line between patients and their healthcare teams can enable clinicians to provide informed and effective care in other ways, for example remote monitoring or advice and guidance, freeing up appointments for those who need them. This can be done in real-time, or asynchronously, enabling patients and their care teams to communicate at a time that’s right for them. This in turn will improve patient experience through giving them clear and consistent routes into their care teams. 

In today’s challenging environment, we feel that bringing these huge system efficiencies could make a huge difference to staff morale and patient satisfaction - as well as helping to clear the backlog.

 

Jacob Haddad, CEO and co-founder of Accurx

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