A new era for patient engagement

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust gives patients ownership over their care with patient engagement portal

The digital system offers patients more choice on how they communicate with healthcare professionals

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust (NLAG) has implemented the Healthcare Communications Patient Engagement Portal across its outpatient service, with 60% of eligible patients already using the system.

The patient portal delivers digital appointment letters to patients, providing immediate cost-saving benefits from paper, printing, and postage.

The new platform is also supporting the trust in its recovery from the COVID–19 pandemic by allowing patients to reschedule and cancel appointments via their mobile devices, reducing the number of ‘did not attend’ appointments (DNAs), improving trust capacity, and easing the administrative burden on staff.

Since going live with the technology, more than 26,000 digital messages have been delivered to patients, with 48% of users adding appointments to their calendars, reducing the likelihood of them being forgotten.

In addition, through digital cancellations and re-bookings, over 900 appointments have been reutilised for waiting-list patients.

Patient experience is becoming increasingly important across the sector, with a shift towards a model that gives patients more control and ownership over their care

Following the successful rollout of the portal across outpatient services, NLAG is now progressing with plans to digitise inpatient letters, before also extending use of the technology to the trust’s diagnostic and therapy departments.

The new technology had been under consideration for some time as part of the trust’s Outpatient Investment Programme — a wider initiative to reduce paper consumption and reliance on paper records across its three hospital sites.

Improving the patient experience

Shauna McMahon, chief information officer, said: “Improving the patient experience is at the core of the NHS, and a key principle in our digital strategy is to provide high-quality, patient-centred care that is driven by digital innovation.

“We are therefore delighted to be working with Healthcare Communications, which is helping us deliver on these ambitions by enabling us to provide information in a timely manner, while offering our patients a choice in how they interact with us.

“We are looking forward to extending the rollout across more of the trust and making further investment in digital technologies.”

Prior to procurement, NLAG attended a series of patient groups to validate its decision to implement a patient communication system and over 90% of patients provided positive feedback in favour of the switch to digital letters.

As a result, the trust decided to proceed with the procurement programme, inviting a number of suppliers to showcase their solutions.

Having met all of the trust’s specifications, both in terms of functionality and flexibility of contract, NLAG opted for the Healthcare Communications Patient Engagement Portal and initiated a phased rollout in March this year.

The new system also gives us the flexibility to agree appointments at short notice and the reassurance that patients are going to attend

As part of this process, the trust oversaw a dedicated communications campaign via social media and internal channels to encourage stakeholder buy-in and educate staff about the switch.

The trust also engaged its outpatient receptionists to validate patient mobile numbers, before sending out SMS messages and promoting the switch via local media outlets to reassure patients about the authenticity of the communication.

Chomping at the bit

Katrina Sugden, project manager at the trust, said: “We began with outpatient letters because we knew that digitising this service would impact the largest number of patients, but we are now working to extend the technology to our inpatient, diagnostic, and therapy services, with staff chomping at the bit to get their letters digital.

“For outpatients, we have been able to switch off our internal letter-printing systems, so we’re saving a lot of admin time, and if a digital letter is not accessed within 24 hours, Healthcare Communications automatically sends a postal version to the patient to provide a fully-inclusive service.

“The new system also gives us the flexibility to agree appointments at short notice and the reassurance that patients are going to attend.

The Patient Engagement Portal enables staff at the trust to easily configure patient letters, including edits to text and changes to the frequency of reminders.

In addition, it can translate digital letters into 99 languages, while providing other patient accessibility features such as increased font size and background colour changes.

It is refreshing to see so many NHS trusts exploring the potential of digital technology that puts the patient first

Kenny Bloxham, managing director of Healthcare Communications, said: “Our end-to-end solution provides true digital transformation and I am delighted to see that it is already making a positive impact upon the lives of staff and patients across the region.

“Patient experience is becoming increasingly important across the sector, with a shift towards a model that gives patients more control and ownership over their care.

“It is, therefore, refreshing to see so many NHS trusts exploring the potential of digital technology that puts the patient first, while also allowing them to maintain the high-quality services they provide.”

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