WRITTEN ON September 16th, 2007 BY Richard Allan AND STORED IN Design: user-oriented, Save Time and Money, What do we want?, Wibbipedia/MindtheGap

A friend recently went to the doctor to be told that they should have received a letter weeks before asking them to come in for some important tests. Like me, they live in London where we are at the sharp end of experiencing an unreliable postal service.

For example, I live in a house with 7 flats. Each morning a large bundle of post comes through the door that we sort into pigeon holes. It seems like at least once a week there is a letter in there that should have gone to another address, so presumably something that should have come here goes astray with the same frequency. We have also experienced letters arriving with postmarks from weeks or even months before.

But, more or less everyone has a mobile phone. So, if you know the post is unreliable and a message is important, why not set your system up to automatically send an SMS to the recipient when you send a letter with a number to call if it doesn’t arrive in a reasonable time. The costs of bulk SMS are marginal and would be outweighed by the greater efficiency for all parties.

Then we can go beyond this to ask why letters are being used at all. The mobile phone is an ideal personal communications device for getting information quickly to people, especially in a place like London where they move around a lot. When you register for a health service you could give your number and agree a password/PIN to confirm your identity. For a routine message like ‘please call us to book an appointment’ you can send an SMS and the recipient calls back, gives the password or PIN to confirm it is the right person and off you go. Savings all round in cost, time etc.

Of course some people may prefer paper mail and don’t like automated call systems but the joy of a multi-channel world built around a good register of communications preferences is that we can all have our preferred methods. The current state of the art is deficient in many services in not having the capability to allow those of us who want to use cheaper electronic means to do so at all. My personal call is – I hate having to deal with paper mail and I fear its unreliability, I think on good grounds, so please don’t make me use it when I can offer a better alternative.

4 Responses to “WIBBI – NHS Correspondence”

Ideal Gov administrator wrote on September 16th, 2007 8:34 pm :

William writes – Yes this seems like a mindset problem, because its not expensive or technically difficult to send SMSs, indeed arent there net-basd services where you can send them for free? Unreliable e-communications like email become reliable when you get a reply. Phone calls are a non-formulaic chance to clear up all sorts of misunderstandings in one go.

Richard S wrote on September 17th, 2007 11:47 pm :

The SMS service provides no guarantee of delivery: Significant numbers of SMS messages are quietly lost.

Some years ago, I tried-out several “one-way,” “two-way” and “self-service” PC & web to/from SMS services: Some companies – not always the most expensive – were much better than others. Delivery delays & reliability varied greatly.

My local hospital keeps re-arranging my appointments – blaming “staff shortages”; they even cancelled a recent appointment in one letter, then re-instated it by the next post. Apparently, their letters are now typed in India!

So, I offered my mobile number and said that I’d be happy with SMS or phone messages; but was told that it’s against hospital trust policy and they have no SMS facility.

Wibbi: Modern communication with patients were possible without spending another 12+Bn Pounds.

Ruth Kennedy wrote on September 18th, 2007 5:56 pm :

The key question is how one manifests this mind-set change throughout public services – eg your local school, your GP’s surgery, your dentist (if you are lucky enough to have one). It all comes back to customer insight: how much do you really want to shape your business around your customers’/service-users’ needs and preferences, in search of more effective and efficient service. And how can we better reward and recognise those frontline services which are just getting on and doing it?

doctor wrote on November 24th, 2007 2:14 am :

I really don’t recall the last time I have dealt with paper mail. I find it rather ancient. The problem is not all people are that interested in technology and of course in electronic mail.