Dudley NHS trust launches patient engagement portal

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 13-Jul-2023

Digital solutions tackles waiting lists and enhances connected care across acute and community settings

The Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (DGFT) has implemented the Healthcare Communications’ Patient Portal across 148 outpatient departments in both acute and community settings.

Following the implementation process, which began on 7 March 2023, the portal is helping the trust to improve the patient experience and meet national targets for reducing waiting list backlogs.

The trust 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.

And, in less than four months, the trust has avoided 7,329 appointments being missed, reducing the Did Not Attends (DNAs) rate by 5%.

Reducing the backlog

As a result, the trust can plan better for appointments and work through its waiting list backlog more effectively, with unwanted appointments 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.

With the rollout of the patient portal, we are already seeing improved engagement and participation, as well as countless benefits relating to ease of use for staff, time saved, and reduced DNAs

The new digital communication method is optional, meaning that patients can opt out and receive appointment letters by post instead, empowering them to make an informed choice based on their individual preferences. 

Given the positive uptake of the solution to date, the trust 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 two hours a day on the manual process of printing, folding, and sending letters.

The journey to net zero

The organisation is also reducing its carbon footprint in line with NHS ambitions to reach net zero by 2040 and reduce emissions by 80% by 2028-2032. 

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 are 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, the trust identified significant inconsistencies in patient letters, with individual departments given free rein to design them.

And, with some patients receiving letters from multiple departments, there was a genuine worry that patients were unsure as to the legitimacy of the communications they received.

Standardising communications

Now, all departments use a standardised NHS letter template, with a 71% reduction in the total number of templates used across the organisation. 

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 into more than 100 languages, while providing other patient accessibility features such as increased font size and background colour changes.

And 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”, said Gina Vowles, applications support specialist at the trust.

“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.” 

Kenny Bloxham, healthcare director at Healthcare Communications, added: “We’re excited about our partnership the trust, and the benefits it unlocks for patients and NHS staff across the region.

“With DNAs costing the NHS upwards of £1billion per year, we encourage more organisations to take proactive steps to reduce missed appointments by switching to digital-first communication.”

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