It’s a common picture; hospitals sending out thousands of appointment letters every day via post and out of those some go missing and needless to say, it all comes at a huge cost.
For Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (WSHFT), it’s a similar story. Letters to patients are sent via royal mail but before that, they have to be generated, printed, folded, stuffed and franked, and eventually posted out along with the millions of other letters that are sent out in the UK every day.
Once a letter has been printed it cannot be traced which means there is a chance it could go missing. Patients could experience a delay receiving their letter or even worse, be unaware of a test result or not attend their appointment as a result – which also incurs a cost. This time-consuming process also involves a huge amount of resource, all which could be better used in other ways.
As part of the vision to go paperless, WSHFT developed a pilot for a ‘hybrid mail system’ for all outpatient appointment letters. The aim is to create appointments using the current process but instead, when letters are printed, they will be sent to a secure NHS accredited mail provider that will print, insert, stuff, frank and deliver to Royal Mail the same day, if printed before 5pm Monday to Friday. This will free up staff time to focus on direct patient care instead of back-end admin processes.
The hybrid mail solution also provides a direct interface into the Patients Know Best (PKB) patient portal which allows patients to receive letters electronically into a secure portal if they prefer. This helps the trust move towards its paper-free target, removing the need for paper correspondence and making it easier for patients to access their letters.
Savings invested in patients
The patient portal also has the capability to go a step further. With an unlimited and unrestricted licence to use the patient portal by all registered patients and employed healthcare professionals of WSHFT, up to one million patients a year will benefit from savings made from the hybrid mail system.
Although the initial rollout will allow patients to view their appointment letters, eventually they will also be able to do a lot more by using the dashboard to access test results, manage appointments and communicate directly with the clinical teams involved in their care to further improve outcomes and patient experience.
An audit trail means that patients can confidently give access to loved ones or carers, and other healthcare professionals involved in their care so that everyone has a holistic view of the care plan to improve integration with care pathways. As PKB’s patient portal can be accessed from any internet enabled device, patients in Western Sussex will be able to see their health information anywhere at any time, empowering them to manage their care whilst bringing healthcare services in Western Sussex into the 21st century.