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Digital-first patient communications at London North West Healthcare Trust improves clinical capacity and helps save over £5m a year 

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust (LNWH) has boosted its clinical capacity, reduced the administrative burden on staff and gained millions in potential savings by cutting missed appointments and postal costs using a digital-first approach to patient communications.

The trust has deployed the market leading communications platform from Healthcare Communications, to replace a cumbersome, manual approach to appointment management and patient engagement with a digital workflow that has generated benefits for patients, staff and the hospital.

The technology has provided LNWH with a conversational platform to engage with its patients and get advance warning of rebooked and cancelled appointments – enabling it to re-allocate over 30,000 appointments and cut its ‘did not attend’ (DNA) rate by more than a quarter (27%). By avoiding these missed appointments, the trust has made a potential saving of £418,000 a month, equating to over £5m a year.

Automated, interactive appointment reminders are now sent direct to patients via text, with patient responses instantly reported back to the booking team. This has helped cut DNA rates from 15% to 10.8%, which has released much-needed capacity and minimised staff time spent waiting for ‘no-shows’.

Digital letters are being delivered via the patient portal, which allows patients to cancel, reschedule or confirm their appointments online. Messages are completely configurable so that patient cohorts – such as those with cancer – can receive communications quickly but not make changes that will affect their treatment pathway.

LNWH, which serves a patient population over 1 million, introduced the portal late in 2019. Since then, 61% of patients have chosen digital letters, saving the trust two-thirds of its postal budget. As not all patients are digitally enabled (90% have mobile phones), physical letters are sent if the recipient doesn’t open the digital version within 24 hours, to ensure information is received by everyone.

LNWH is also using the instant messaging functionality to send planned and ad hoc messages about appointments and visiting hours to individuals and groups of patients. This was invaluable during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the trust had to change elective appointments at short notice – converting most into virtual sessions. Team rotas fluctuated considerably due to staff self-isolating or recovering from the virus, so sending notifications at scale helped to prevent unnecessary trips into the hospital, and reduced the risk of spreading the virus.

Chris Robbins, General Manager, Outpatients & Patient Access Centre, said: “As market leaders in digitised patient communications, we knew that Healthcare Communications could deliver at a pace and scale to suit the needs of the trust. Our confidence in them has been fully justified, as we can see from the improved clinical capacity and cost savings.

“From working with the Healthcare Communications team for over a year, we have transformed our patient communications with flexible, user-friendly technology that underpins a better patient journey. As a result, we have the capacity to provide more patient care, and we can work around the needs of our staff, whatever the circumstance.”

Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director at Healthcare Communications said: “LNWH has been successful in moving its patient communications to ‘digital by default’ long before the pandemic, and the benefits this brings is clear.

“With tools such as instant messaging and the patient portal, the trust can communicate with patients at scale to help keep pressure off NHS administration staff, and provide a better patient experience. It shows what can be achieved with a well thought-through, digitised communication strategy.”

The trust is undertaking further work with Healthcare Communications as staff cope with the backlog of appointments that has built up during the peak of the pandemic. The communication platform is being used to create messages tailored to specific patient cohorts according to clinical need, so that priority patients can be seen first, and the trust can phase its return to normal patterns of activity.

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