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Why the NHS must upgrade its communications toolkit now

Over recent years many NHS organisations have focused on using their websites and social media to get their messages out to the public and engage audiences in health programmes. However in the face of continued budget cuts and increasing demand for health and social care services (from an aging and growing population), organisations must now harness the full power of digital communications to reach more people, engage them in behavioural changes that help reduce contact (and costs), and deliver better health outcomes.

The need for the right tools to drive engagement and participation

We know the health sector is juggling a number of challenges, many of which could be alleviated if enough people are encouraged to make better lifestyle choices, or know how and when to access the right healthcare service for their needs, as they arise. In turn, efficient and correct use of our health service could help reduce the strain on services – especially during peak periods of demand such as winter.

But does the health sector have the right communication tools to be able to bring about the changes required? How are organisations addressing the need to:

  •         Reduce demand on acute services
  •         Increase the use of online services
  •         Improve staff recruitment and retention
  •         Encourage people to take better control of their health
  •         Increase attendance at appointments
  •         Get more people using the right service (e.g. pharmacy / GP / 111 / 999)
  •         Increase public participation in health initiatives

Proactive and effective communication between healthcare providers, patients, the public, staff and other stakeholders is more important than ever and could help safeguard the future of services. How? Many organisations across the public sector are already proving that digital communications can help them engage larger audiences than ever in key initiatives and at a variety of strategic touch-points.

Making your investments in websites, apps and campaigns worthwhile

In particular local government (who are often earlier adopters of digital comms technologies) are using a broader range of tactics to encourage more people to take specific actions and make better decisions that result in positive internal outcomes for the organisation (for example reduced demand and cost savings, or income generation), as well as improved external outcomes (for example happier, healthier and safer communities). The health sector must quickly diversify its outreach capability and embrace the full power of digital communications (including email marketing, two-way SMS, video and social media) to prompt more people to make healthier choices and lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

Websites, apps and other digital self-service opportunities are important elements of the NHS’s toolkit. These offerings aim to serve a range of customers and facilitate a reduction in demand for more expensive customer contact (for example GP appointments and A&E visits). But what if only a few people use these cost-effective channels? What if the people they intend to serve still don’t know these services exist? Healthcare teams must have the right vehicles in place to drive the right people to use these all-important services (digital or not) at the right moment. The comms strategy to guarantee the take-up of services needs to be planned in tandem with the development of the service.

Early intervention and support to reduce demand on costly services

When people have easy and timely access to information, early support services, and opportunities to improve their health through fitness and wellbeing programmes, they are more likely to be able to take better control of their health and less likely to require costly medical/healthcare intervention. Targeted digital communications campaigns, delivered at scale, hold huge potential for the health sector and for local government teams that have a keen eye on improving public health.

For example, 6k residents have opted to receive healthy living tips by email from Kirklees Council, hundreds of local people are signing up for community exercise and mental health support classes in Bedford – 37% of participants book via the council’s regular health and sport email bulletin, and two-way text messaging is being used to provide personalised advice for people travelling to countries affected by the Zika virus. These are just a few examples of how Granicus’ digital communications solutions are supporting public health programmes.

An exciting opportunity for your healthcare organisation

I’m excited by the opportunity to help health care services deliver a digital communications strategy fit for today and the future. I urge organisations to get in touch to discuss how you’re reaching and engaging audiences now, and what you need to achieve. I’m with you. We’re with you. We want to help. We all benefit from a brilliant health service and we know Granicus’ email and text messaging solutions can play a part in the continued improvement of services, the customer experience and patient outcomes. Let’s have a chat?

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