1.6 million patients go ‘digital-first’ with appointment letters

Portal is delivering savings of over £2m for NHS trusts

Healthcare Communications' patient portal enables patients to receive and respond to appointment letters digitally, cutting down on do not attends

An award-winning digital portal introduced by hospitals across the country has delivered over £2m in NHS postal savings, and seen 1.6 million patients choose to go digital-first with their appointment letters.

First piloted by Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in 2017, 18 healthcare organisations across the country are now using at scale the patient portal, which was developed by Healthcare Communications.

Enabling patients to receive and respond to appointment letters digitally, as well as providing instant translation and other patient functionality; the portal is cutting postage costs and reducing the admin time associated with traditional letters.

It is also making it easier for unwanted appointments to be cancelled and made available to other patients.

Communicating with some of our patients in a paper format can be challenging, so we wanted to look at alternative ways to quickly deliver the information about their appointments

Since the widespread launch of the technology 18 months ago, 1.6 million letters have been received by patients digitally.

And patients have sent 131,455 notifications that their allocated appointments were either unneeded or inconvenient; quickly freeing up appointment availability for others and helping to reduce did not attend (DNA) rates.

The portal can be accessed via smartphones, tablets and desktops

Overall, 1.24 million patients chose to confirm, cancel or rebook using the portal, using the one-click response button.

Following its digital letter launch, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust’s DNA rate dropped from 5.8% in September 2018 to 4.1% in January 2019, compared to the national rate of 8%.

Other trusts now using the patient portal include Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, and East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.

North West London Healthcare NHS Trust also rolled out the service last week, with eligible patient open rates peaking at 59% already.

The portal can be accessed via smartphones, tablets and desktops, giving patients appointment times, details and mapped locations, with the ability to confirm, rebook or cancel.

Additional information, such as leaflets and pre-assessment instructions, can also be accessed via the portal.

With the digital appointment letter, we know our patient are getting the information they need in real time and are able to download it directly onto their own electronic calendar, so they are not forgetting to attend or losing the letter

One of the latest trusts to report the impact it is having is Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, which has saved more than £10,000 a month since introducing digital letters.

Katharine Fletcher, head of planned access at the trust, which rolled-out the service in October 2018, said: “Communicating with some of our patients in a paper format can be challenging, so we wanted to look at alternative ways to quickly deliver the information about their appointments.

“With the digital appointment letter, we know our patient are getting the information they need in real time and are able to download it directly onto their own electronic calendar, so they are not forgetting to attend or losing the letter.

“Patients can also use the letter to self-check-in at the hospital for a smoother arrival process.

“From a financial aspect we are saving £10,000 a month in terms of what we would have been spending on sending out paper letters.

“And, when you capture the data on the time staff spend cancelling and rescheduling appointments, the savings are huge.”

Managing director of Healthcare Communications, Kenny Bloxham, added: “Patient portal uptake has been rapid and we’ve seen a similar pattern of activity with patients across the country, with 54% of patients, on average, choosing to go digital soon after roll out.

“Uptake also increases along the pathway. For example, in the last two months, 71% of eligible inpatients at United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust opted for digital letters over post.”

The solution recently won the Best Digital Solution at the Public Sector Paperless Awards.

Companies