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Four NHS hospital trusts have become the first to introduce a new digital portal allowing patients to receive and respond to appointment letters digitally.
Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust first rolled out the system in March and has since seen a 40% reduction in the number of out patient letters it sends in that time.
Within three days of its launch in Barnsley, 46% of patients who were offered it chose digital letters over traditional post and among the 30-69 age group, ‘open’ rates sit at around 60%.
A postal letter is automatically sent to those who do not access the digital letter within 48 hours.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and King’s College NHS Foundation Trust are also rolling out the new system, which could see the NHS save millions on postage every year.
The new scheme is being operated by Healthcare Communications, a software company that handles multi-channel patient communications technology, such as appointment management and experience surveys.
The software system 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.
Barnsley’s associate director of operations for women’s, children’s, outpatients and support servicesSimon 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.’
He added that ‘the potential for the portal is huge’.
He said: ‘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.’