The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust (DGFT) has successfully implemented the Healthcare Communications Patient Portal across 148 outpatient departments in both acute and community settings. Following the implementation process, which began on 7th March 2023 the portal is helping the trust to improve patient experience and meet national targets to reduce waiting list backlogs. DGFT is also expecting to make efficiency and cost savings by switching from paper processes.
The patient portal platform delivers digital appointment letters to patients, allowing them to book, change or cancel their appointments via a mobile device. In less than 4 months, DGFT has avoided 7329 appointments being missed, reducing the Did Not Attends (DNAs) rate by 5%. As a result, the trust can plan better for appointments and work through its waiting list backlog more effectively, with unwanted appointments actively being offered to other patients waiting for consultation.
To inform patients about the new technology and option to self-manage their health using personalised technology, the trust dispatched 80,000 SMS messages. The new digital communication method is optional, meaning that patients can opt-out to receive appointment letters by post instead, empowering them to make an informed choice based on their preferences.
Given the positive uptake of the solution to date, the DGFT is already recording cost-saving benefits of at least £10,000 with a significant decrease in paper letters, saving 780 hours over a year in batch letter production, with one department saving 2 hours a day on the manual process of printing, folding and sending letters. As a result, DGFT is also reducing its carbon footprint, in line with NHS ambitions to reach net zero by 2040 and reduce emissions by 80% by 2028 to 2032.
Neill Crump, Digital Strategy Director at The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are delighted to be working with Healthcare Communications to digitise the way we interact with patients and standardise appointment procedures for departments. With the rollout of the patient portal, we’re already seeing improved engagement and participation, as well as countless benefits relating to ease of use for staff, time saved and reduced DNAs.”
Prior to the rollout, DGFT identified significant inconsistencies in patient letters, with individual departments given free rein to design them. With some patients receiving letters from multiple trust departments, there was a genuine worry that patients were feeling unsure as to the legitimacy of the communications they received. Now, all Departments use a standardised NHS letter template, with a 71% reduction in the total number of templates used across the trust.
In addition, the portal enables staff at the trust to configure patient letters, including edits to text and changes to the frequency of reminders. It is also capable of translating digital letters to more than 100 languages, while providing other patient accessibility features such as increased font size and background colour changes. Staff have been given extensive support in the form of reference guides, e-learning and video materials.
“Since the go-live we’ve had a lot of patients compliment the ease of use of the platform, despite many not being all too comfortable with using technology, they are now able to access letters digitally and accept and change appointments as needed. Staff are also very happy with how the system allows them to check what letters have been sent” said Gina Vowles, Applications Support Specialist at the trust.
Kenny Bloxham, Healthcare Director, Healthcare Communications said: “We’re excited about our partnership with Dudley NHS Foundation Trust, and the benefits it unlocks for patients and NHS staff across the region. With DNAs costing the NHS upwards of £1bn per year, we encourage more organisations to take proactive steps to reduce missed appointments by switching to digital-first communication.”
DGFT is one of the 135 NHS Trusts using the Healthcare Communications’ technology, with Walsall Healthcare Trust and Sandwell and West Birmingham from the Black Country ICS also due to go live with the Patient Portal shortly.