Benefits for patients
- Easy, instant access to appointment information and materials
- Secure portal, available 24/7, on any device
- Clearly indicates the appointment type to patients – in person, phone or video
- A reduction in appointment letters arriving late (or not at all)
- Shorter waiting times for communication of new and follow-up appointments
Benefits to the Trust
- Improved patient flow, in just four months patient take up is over 66% of new appointment notifications via the portal
- 4,000+ weekly appointments, using a self-service digital portal will cut postage costs by more than 50%
- Increased utilisation of non-attend appointments
- Less friction, where patients receive letters after appointments, or not at all
Patient communication needs have changed
Chesterfield Royal Hospital, along with the rest of the NHS has for some time faced a challenge with managing DNA rates for outpatient appointments. There are several factors, for example letters can get lost in the post, are received and forgotten about, arrive after the appointment or the individual’s circumstances change and they forget to cancel. All of these can result in missed appointments.
Claire Carson, Associate Director of Performance and Information said: “Patients found it difficult to understand why they had to wait for information to arrive through the post after an appointment had already been agreed with the booking centre over the phone.” It can lead to confusion. Situations change rapidly and despite text message reminders, relying on the postal services is no longer enough for patients.
The future is digital
Chesterfield Royal Hospital wanted to improve the patient experience and help to reduce the number of patients who, for whatever reason, miss their appointments. The Trust, therefore, researched a number of digital solutions, eventually settling on Patient Hub, from Netcall, which is a portal through which a patient can check and manage their appointment online.
Patient Hub provides a communications portal that simplifies the appointment management and consultation process, providing a single place to access information. It can be used on any mobile device and has 2-factor security offering patients 24/7 access to their appointment information.
Patients can change and update their contact preferences, which is vital in keeping them informed and it responds to set times. This is a fall back option meaning that any patient who has not digitally connected or responded within the set timeframe is automatically sent posted letters. Patients are notified by SMS or email of any new appointment or information.
Giving patients’ control
The Trust’s Director of ICT and Informatics, Ian Hazel said that: “Patient Hub is about giving our patients an improved experience and more control over their appointments. Patient Hub is integrated with our booking and telephony systems, Medway and Synertec, making it more convenient and faster for patients and staff to manage a rebooking or cancellation. Reallocating freed appointments to other patients shortens their waiting time, maximises utilisation and reduces DNAs. The Trust is committed to going paper-light, where it means better care and services for patients. The digital portal is expected to cut our postage bills in half.”
Patient Hub went live at around the time of the first COVID lockdown which, due to the rapidly changing environment and evolving health situation and to get the best results from the portal, caused the Trust to opt for a four-phase roll-out. The first stage was for four speciality areas – Head and Neck, Urology, Cardiology and Breast. In response to COVID, the Trust also chose to take on essential functionality to be iterative and allow a fast paced implementation.
A staggered approach allowed for lessons learned, constructive feedback and for mitigations to be put in place before moving on to the next phase.
Adapting to a changing environment
With the onset of COVID and social distancing measures in place, the number of outpatient appointments that took place via video link, over the phone through other, non-patient facing means rose to 80%. Many patients still assumed their appointment was onsite but, thanks to the flexibility of Patient Hub, the Trust was able to clearly communicate whether the appointment was in person, by phone or on video – to reduce the risk of an unnecessary trip.
Video links often feature long urls that could be difficult to type from a letter; with Patient Hub it’s a simple case of clicking on a button to seamlessly arrive at the Attend Anywhere video portal virtual clinic.
Teams should not underestimate the need to update each department’s appointment process work. A smooth transition to digital comes from having 100-percent understanding of their processes. This investment has paid off for today and future efficiencies, reducing errors and improving the patient experience.
In phase two, Chesterfield onboarded all new appointments across specialities. The next phase brings on board all follow-up and mixed appointments across all specialities using Medway and Synertec.
A robust comms plan in place
Chesterfield put in place a strong comms plan across multiple platforms and media to drive the success of the project. The Booking team advisors help patients to go digital with phone support. There are banners and posters around the hospital to drive awareness to patients and a section on the website. The Trust has also engaged with radio, local press, Facebook and Social Media and has written to all local GPs to advise of the switch to the digital patient portal.
So far, so good
The Trust believes the initial quarter’s success of 66% of new appointments managed digitally is just the start. Patients using the digital portal no longer need printed letters, there are immediate financial and environmental savings as well as improvements to patient flow. It’s early days but the Trust expects an ROI within 12 months.
In December 2020, we were delighted to hear that the Chesterfield team won the Healthcare IT award at the Health Business Awards, recognising excellence in the National Health Service.
Having a robust comms plan in place is very important to its success and one of the reasons why we have had a great uptake so far. Start early with communications and ramp it up. Keep stakeholders onboard from day one, keep consultants engaged along with the bookings teams to ensure you have their support the whole way through.
Offering video consultations with ‘Attend Anywhere’ is a positive step towards improving patient access and reducing costs. But have you considered how you’ll tell patients about these new ‘virtual’ appointments? How will you ensure it’s quick and easy for them to attend?
Ian Hazel shares how Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is improving patient communications and reducing costs thanks to Patient Hub.