Secondary Care

Hospital trusts introduce pioneering digital letters that could 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 – potentially saving the NHS millions in postage costs every year.

Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was the first to introduce the mobile-enabled technology and has seen a 40% reduction in the number of outpatient letters it sends in just six months. Now it is rolling the portal out across the trust – including an initiative to get patients into hospital more quickly for vital cancer checks.

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and King’s College NHS Foundation Trust are also rolling out the new system.

The new technology is pioneered by Healthcare Communications, an organisation that has worked with the NHS for 17 years and supports 100 trusts with multi-channel patient communications technology, such as appointment management and experience surveys.

It sends patients a highly secure digital invite to view appointment letters, pre-assessments and supporting information on their smartphone, tablet or desktop.  Patients can click to immediately confirm, cancel or rebook their appointment, as well as adding the appointment in their digital calendar, and accessing real-time travel maps. They can also save the letter or print it, and access speech, reading and translation options.

Implementation is rapid. Within three days of its launch in Barnsley, 46% of patients who were offered it chose digital letters over traditional post.  Among the 30-69 age group, ‘open’ rates are high, at around 60%. 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.”