Monday, 16 January 2017

The battle against Flu: How can technology help?


According to Public Health England’s Annual Flu Report, there have been more than three million deaths in the UK since 2006 from flu. Nick Hawkins, Managing Director atEverbridge EMEA, discusses how mass notification solutions can be used by health care providers to stop the death toll rising.

Recent figures released by the Office for NationalStatistics (ONS) show that last year an ineffective vaccine combined with low immunisation rates across the UK resulted in the largest percentage increase in flu deaths since 1968.

Who is most at risk?

Whilst anyone can catch flu, its symptoms have a devastating effect on certain groups including the over 65’s, pregnant women, young children, and diabetes sufferers. The latest report from Public Health England shows vaccination rates within these groups have decreased in the last twelve months.

So what can be done to improve the communication between NHS organisations and citizens about the flu virus? What tools can medical professionals use to manage flu vaccination programmes and any severe outbreaks of the virus?

The power of critical communications technology

Critical communications platforms are already in use by several organisations within the NHS. Hospitals use the technology to co-ordinate with staff and deploy resources in the event of an emergency, and ambulance services use it to communicate more effectively with first responders and residents during major incidents. So how can local NHS Trusts and GP practices use the technology in the fight against flu?

Communication platforms can be used to send targeted notifications directly to individuals. These critical messages can be sent quickly and reliably via several different communication channels—including SMS, email, text-to-speech alerts, social media and push notifications. In fact, the most effective platforms have the capability to send out notifications via more than 100 communication paths and devices, enabling organisations to communicate with residents much more effectively than before.

This would allow health care providers to communicate directly with vulnerable people during the winter months. During flu season GP practices could send out messages to diabetes sufferers and the elderly to remind them to book a flu vaccination.

By moving away from the current blanket-approach to a more targeted methodology, the technology enables health care providers to directly reach out to patients— even when they are outside of a medical facility—and provide them with useful health information tailored to their individual circumstances. Targeted messaging means patients are aware that their local healthcare provider has prioritised their health and are therefore more inclined to take action following a critical notification from their doctor.

Central to the success of critical communications platforms are two key functions.  The first is the capability to deliver messages using a variety of different methods – known as multi-modal communications. The second is effective two-way communication, which is the ability for recipients to respond to notifications quickly and easily, acknowledge receipt and confirm actions or declare status.

Importance of multi-modality

No communications channel is 100% reliable 100% of the time, so multi-modality transforms the speed at which people receive the message.  Multi-modality facilitates communication via more than 100 different communication devices and contact paths as diverse as smartphones, tannoy systems and digital signage.  Multi-modality enables multiple methods of delivering vital preventative information during breakouts of flu.

Two-way or no-way

Just as multi-modality ensures it is easier to receive a message, two way communications makes it simpler to confirm a response. Organisations can use communications platforms to create and deliver bespoke templates that require simple one-button press responses. In doing so, the number of responses increases significantly.

For instance, GP surgeries could send out a critical notification asking local residents if they are feeling unwell and whether they need an appointment. Residents can reply instantly, providing health care professionals with an overview of the scale of the issue and how best to deploy resources.
Combined, these two functions enable organisations to respond smarter and faster. In situations where multi-modal communications and response templates are deployed together, response rates to messages increase from around 20% to more than 90%. This increase means residents are better informed of the dangers of flu, more aware of what measures to take and able to inform medical professionals when they need assistance.

Emergency communications during an outbreak

Whilst most common strains of flu are treatable with modern medicine, the virus continues to evolve. In 2009, the UK found itself amid a ‘swine flu’ pandemic—the antibiotic resistant H1N1 influenza virus.  In recent weeks, scientists have also discovered a new severe strain of H5N8 avian flu which is spreading across Eastern and Central Europe.

Critical communications platforms could be used by hospitals and first response teams to communicate with on-call staff and deploy medical resources to treat patients and quarantine the virus. Users could also harness the platform’s geo-location data to assess the most affected areas and prioritise those patients with the most critical needs.

As a result, pressure on the NHS and local GP’s would be reduced, and vulnerable patients in need of urgent assistance would receive more efficient treatment.


Flu remains a killer yet often blunt tools such as national newspaper and radio advertising are used to advise the public of the need to be vaccinated.  The digital age facilitates new and more engaging ways to communicate.  Emergency communications platforms deliver a more personalised form of two-way communication to drive higher response rates and consequently improve public wellbeing, likely at a small proportion of the cost of traditional communications methods.