South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust (STSFT) has rolled out a patient engagement platform to help save on administration hours. 

The patient engagement platform from Healthcare Communications delivers digital appointment letters to patients and allows them to use an app to reschedule or cancel appointments. The platform has tackled the problem of a lack of accountability for paper processes and well as the issue of sending paper letters for short notice appointments.

The trust joins 37 other NHS trusts who are using the platform – including Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation trust who went live with it in July this year.

STSFT estimates it has saved an average of 37 hours per month which frees up time to focus on patient care. It has also been able to offer short-notice cancelled appointments to patients on waiting lists and reduced the number of ‘did not attend’ appointments by four per cent.

Laura Bond, head of outpatients and clinical administration South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The Patient Engagement Portal has transformed our appointment management processes. Our admin staff no longer have the burden of manually sending letters or answering unnecessary inbound calls, giving them more time to focus on caring for our patients.

“Moving our patient appointment communications to a digital workflow means we are now able to deliver information to patients in a format that works best for them. There are many benefits to our organisation and administrative team; it has truly helped us transform our department and the quality of service we can provide.”

The Patient Portal means admin teams are able to easily configure patient letters and there is also a fail-safe process triggering a paper letter to patients if digital communications are not accessed within 24 hours.

Kenny Bloxham, managing director, Healthcare Communications, said of the trust’s experience: “With more than 700,000 letters sent digitally, trust staff are spending much less time on administrative processes, freeing up more time for patient care and ensuring that appointments can be reutilised.

“The cost-saving benefits and improvements to accountability have also been significant, and we are looking forward to extending the use of the technology to community services, radiology and other surgery departments. With the appetite for personalised patient communication growing, the switch to digital-first communication is an important step for any organisation wanting to open the digital front door and remove barriers for patients to receive their healthcare.”

The trust estimates it has made annual cost savings of £240,000 thanks to the technology.

The roll out went live across STSFT’s outpatient service in October 2019 and the trust now hopes to extend its use to community services, radiology and other surgery departments. From November 2021 it also plans to deploy the Patient Portal to support the clinical prioritisation and validation of its elective waiting lists.