Keeping Communication Channels Open

Published: 17th May 2017

This hasn’t been the easiest of weeks for our NHS colleagues. We heard that the NHS had fallen victim to a cyberattack fairly early on Friday, but the scale of the problem wasn’t clear until late afternoon.

Some of our customers were fortunate to escape with little disruption, others continue to struggle. The option to pay the ransom appears to have been dismissed in most areas, meaning that backup policies and procedures may well get a lot of press for the next few months. The scale of the damage caused is hard to evaluate even now.

What was eye opening about the attack were the large scale behavioural changes it prompted. Emails, online calendars and printers stopped working, so what was the solution? GPs resorted to writing notes and prescriptions by hand, prompting one wag to remark that a GP’s handwriting was the most effective encryption known to man! Surgery appointments were entered in diaries, clinicians spoke with each other on the phone, faxes were sent.

All of it was inefficient by modern standards, but all of it worked. Having access to analogue methods came up trumps when digital failed.

In case you are worried that this article is now going to try to argue that telecommunications (which we sell) are the only reliable solution, not a bit of it! When BT’s infrastructure went down in February last year, we went down with it for a few hours. You may recall that most phone and fax services were offline for part of that day. This meant that (you guessed it) email and online communications took the strain until the problem was fixed.

The lesson from both these incidents is that commitment to just one channel of communication is not a good strategy. Both the cyberattack and the BT infrastructure incident each hit one channel only. On both occasions the other channel rode to the rescue.

This is relevant because there is a tendency amongst strategy and transformation professionals to go “all-in” with one channel. For example, we have recently heard at one Trust, which receives a lot of its referrals by fax, that the fax lines are to be turned off to force clinicians to refer through the online e-Referrals Service. There is a lot of sense in doing this, but we wonder if this approach will be revised in light of the cyberattack? Some Trusts still don’t have their electronic systems up and running, meaning that fax and telephone are vital communication lines for referrals.

We feel the same about Advice & Guidance. Giving GPs the option to confer with local consultants by both telephone and email allows the GP to choose the most appropriate channel and increases the usage of Advice & Guidance. What’s more, it provides an alternative if one of the channels should stop working, which is excellent management of risk.

Please get in touch if you would like to arrange a demonstration of Consultant Connect or if you would like to discuss how to balance email and telephone Advice & Guidance options.

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