NHS Trusts introduce digital letters to potentially save millions

Four NHS hospital Trusts have become the first in England to make the switch to a new digital portal that allows patients to receive and respond to appointment letters digitally.

Patients are sent a digital invite to view appointment letters, pre-assessments and other information on their smart device or desktop. Patients can confirm, cancel or rebook their appointment, add it into their digital calendar and access real-time travel maps. Patients can also print out the letter and access speech, reading and translation options.

The new technology has been developed by Healthcare Communications and could potentially save the NHS millions in postage costs every year. Barnsley pic

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust introduced the technology first and within six months saw a 40% reduction in the number of outpatient letters it sends. The Trust is now launching an initiative to get patients into hospital more quickly for vital cancer checks.

Other Trusts rolling out the system includes Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and King’s College NHS Foundation Trust.

Getting the system up-and-running is a quick process. Within three days Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust got 46% of its patients to choose digital letters over traditional post. A postal letter is automatically sent to those who do not access the digital letter within 48 hours.

Barnsley’s associate director of Operations for Women’s, Children’s, Outpatients & Support Services Simon Ainsworth said: “One of the huge benefits of the portal is having the confidence and assurance that patients have received the invitation, as we get a digital receipt when it is opened. More than 90% of patients who accept the invitation access it within 24 hours. Like the rest of the NHS, we are working towards a challenging 28-day cancer diagnosis target, and we see this is part of the solution to that.

“The potential for the portal is huge. We have already recommended it to several other trusts, and we are going to roll it out everywhere that we can, including pre-assessment and surgery appointments.  As patient uptake continues to grow, so too will cost savings. It is also freeing up staff for more real-time contact with patients. They are more available to deal with phone queries, for example.”

Mike Cunningham, managing director of Healthcare Communications, said: “As the NHS advances in its paperless ambitions, the development of patient-focused digital innovation has a pivotal part to play. There are huge opportunities to enhance patient experience and introduce new technologies for those who prefer digital communications – while helping trusts to achieve cost improvement programmes.”

Barnsley has been shortlisted in the ‘Trust of the year’ category in the EHI Awards 2017, which recognise digital innovation.

Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

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