Up and down the country, NHS trusts are finding new and innovative ways to leverage the power of digital technologies. In Bradford, paper appointment letters are the latest thing to become a relic of the past, as Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust shifts to a digital provider – saving the trust £100,000 a year in postage costs alone.
The move to digital patient letters is currently being trialled within the trust’s ophthalmology and paediatrics departments.
Patients or their parents or guardians receive a text message with a secure, direct link through to a digital appointment letter, rather than a traditional paper version being posted out to their address.
As well as being cost-effective for the trust, with the constantly changing circumstances of the coronavirus, the move to digital patient letters has allowed the trust to update information where necessary much more easily.
Currently, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS FT send over 1.5 million letters a year.
Andrew Mullan, Service Improvement Lead at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS FT, said: “Previously patients received their appointment letters through the post, but this new move to digital means they can access their appointment letters wherever they are. They don’t have to wait for the post.
“They will receive a text message notifying them that they have a new appointment letter to view online. Then they follow the link in the text message, which takes them to a secure patient portal where they verify their identity with name, date-of-birth and postcode. A one-time code is sent to their mobile and then they click to view and download their letter.
“The new system will also give patients the option of changing their appointment if they are unable to make the original time and date. They don’t have to spend time ringing the hospital and finding someone to speak to.”
There are failsafe systems in place too, ensuring those who may struggle to access their digital patient letter still receive vital information – whilst reducing the need to send out to those who can engage with the new technology.
“The digital system also shows the trust if the letter remains unread.
“If that is the case, a paper letter will be sent out automatically as a back-up. Currently, between 80 and 85 per cent of patients trust-wide are contacted by text message about their appointments so for them the next step is a simple one; they just click on the link to see their letter.
“Sending letters digitally also means we can update information more easily as conditions change – for example during the Covid-19 pandemic where more appointments are via telephone or video or where we ask patients not to turn up at the hospital until the appointed time. We can also include links to parking at the hospital or directions and so on.
“Patients just now need to ensure that our receptionists have their correct mobile number, full name, date-of-birth and postcode. If they didn’t have a smartphone themselves, they can also nominate a family member of carer, who would be able to receive the appointment letters on their behalf.”
The trust has also put new accessibility measures in place for patients, allowing paper letters to be requested – including in easy-read, large print or braille formats.