The Future of Telecoms and Unified Communications in the NHS

NHS Telecoms Consultant

The way in which people work, both within the healthcare sector and elsewhere, has undoubtedly changed irreversibly over the past 18 months. As we emerge into what is often being dubbed “the new normal”, 4C Strategies looks ahead to assess what the future may hold for telecoms within the healthcare sector and further afield.

 

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

 

Traditional telephony (such as phone calls, fax, voicemail etc.) is a technology which allows voice or interactive communication between two points through the usage of appropriate equipment. Internet telephony, therefore, refers to all features of traditional telephony where all calls and data are sent over the internet rather than over traditional landlines, commonly using VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol).

VoIP is the transmission of voice and multimedia content over Internet Protocol. A huge advantage that this gives organisations is that calls can be made free of charge, regardless of location. Internet telephony would greatly benefit healthcare organisations due to the cost effectiveness of it and we therefore expect to see an increase in the use of VoIP in the NHS as Trusts realise this benefit.

 

(Read how 4C Strategies helped Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust to reduce its operating costs by replacing its legacy telephony systems here.)

 

Hosted Telephony

 

Hosted telephony, sometimes known as hosted VoIP, is a telephone system that lives in a data centre within the cloud. Calls are made via IP handsets and delivered over a broadband connection to the ISP network. Most solutions to hosted VoIP have layers of encryption such as call encryption and voice data encryption, traffic scanning, gateway security and more. These security measures make it much more secure than unhosted VoIP. Making calls over the internet removes the requirement for installing hardware which minimises cost and speeds up getting started, it also means there is no costly service provider. To integrate internet telephony requires an understanding of multiple UCC and IP telephony protocols and interfaces to create links between communication services and enterprise applications. In addition to benefits relating to cost-effectiveness, hosted telephony’s layers of encryption provide greater security, which is of particular benefit to the healthcare sector as it deals with matters pertaining to patient privacy and data security.

Some of the major trends surrounding hosted telephony include the adoption of unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Rather than paying for costly in-house hardware, organisations will begin to adopt cloud phone systems. This also means that users can access their data, audio and video through any internet connected device as everything is posted in the cloud. Mobile unified communications technology has already become more due to the increased number of remote workers as a result of Covid-19, as well as with the launch of 5G, which has increased the functionality of the mobile app VoIP support system. As we predict that, heading out of the pandemic, many organisations will adopt a hybrid approach to working, we expect hosted telephony to become yet more prevalent in years to come.

 

Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC)

 

Commonly known as UCC, unified communications and collaboration describes the interconnected systems of communication devices and applications. The ultimate goal of UCC is to integrate all software so that the end user has easy access to all tools from whatever device is being used.

 

The NHS has discussed how UCC will play a huge part in its digital transformation over the next 10 years. NHS Wales has already signed a contract with Microsoft to provide the company’s cloud-based suite, Microsoft 365, to over 100,000 health workers. This software will enable NHS Wales staff to communicate without disruption and ensure that sensitive information being sent between colleagues is secure.

 

In the past – voice, video, messaging, conferencing, mobility, fax and pagers were all delivered via different providers which proved to be time consuming and disruptive due to the constant need to change platforms. UCC integrates all of these communication methods into one place to allow for a smooth transition with minimal disruption to the user. The NHS has said that ‘ensuring that staff and patients have access to the right data, at the right time, is vital to the NHS providing effective, safe, good value services.’ This would not be achievable without the use of UCC which unifies all communication methods making it easier for employees and ultimately saving time and money.

 

Microsoft Teams

 

With offerings pertaining to both unified communications and collaboration, many health organisations are now exploring how Microsoft Teams can fit into their wider IT and collaboration strategy. Digital transformation has been growing significantly in recent years and in January 2019, the NHS published their Long Term Plan and introduced a super group called NHSX to lead digital change. In 2020, Microsoft launched N365, an agreement with NHSX and NHS Digital offering free or discounted access to Microsoft Office 365 across the NHS. Under the N365 agreement, NHS organisations in England can now access the most up to date Microsoft 365 product suite, including Microsoft Teams.

 

(To find out more about how Teams might fit into your organisation’s IT and telecommunications strategy, read our article here.)

 

4C Strategies – Expert NHS Telecoms Consultants

 

4C Strategies has been assisting organisations in the healthcare industry for over 20 years. Our expertise covers all aspects of IT and telecommunications. To find out more, contact one of 4C Strategies’ qualified healthcare technology consultants today on 01858 438938. Alternatively, you can email nhs@4c.co.uk or visit our website.