Man with phone

Rethinking elective recovery with a patient portal

To tackle the elective backlog, trusts need to think bigger than phones and letters. 

This January, as the NHS faces severe winter pressures, over seven million people across the UK wait for elective care. Waiting lists continue to grow and so does the pressure on trust leaders to turn the tide and reduce the overwhelming number of patients who make up the elective backlog.

Over recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that addressing the backlog isn’t simply about delivering care quicker and getting patients in front of caregivers. It’s also about the ways in which healthcare teams manage waiting lists and how they communicate with patients. 

Across secondary care today, trust staff lose countless hours calling patients or sending letters about appointments. As it stands, there is no way to know whether a patient has received an appointment letter, and they often arrive after the appointment should have taken place. There are also no easy ways to follow up with patients who have been on waiting lists for months, and it’s difficult to reach patients who don’t respond. For staff, waiting list management is time-consuming, resource-heavy and results in long delays – delays which can even affect a patient’s prognosis and future care. Patients, meanwhile, often find themselves left in the dark, unable to seek advice or get updates on when they will receive care, causing anxiety and poor patient experience. 

If waiting list numbers are to be reduced, trusts need to think bigger than the usual modes of phones and letters to communicate with patients and manage waiting lists.

Patient-led appointment management through a patient engagement portal

One way that promises to transform how waiting lists are managed is better patient engagement, i.e. through a patient engagement portal. 

Patient engagement portals give patients a quick way to manage their appointments, view information and make medical or admin requests that can be easily triaged and resolved through online consultations or SMS guidance. This gives patients a central role in reducing DNAs while freeing up clinical and administrative capacity for healthcare teams. 

Getting a patient engagement portal off the ground

The deployment of a patient engagement portal in a trust typically consists of two stages. These stages can be undertaken either in parallel or sequentially, given both stages bring value in isolation.

One stage involves integrating the portal with the trust’s Patient Administration System (PAS) so that appointment information is accessible in the portal. The other stage involves implementing the portal within trust services, so staff can hit the ground running with it straight away.

For a successful PAS integration, the PAS feed should pull all key patient information into the patient portal. This includes data such as the patient's name, address, date of birth and details of all patient contact with the hospital. With the necessary engagement from a trust, this can be deployed in just six weeks. 

Implementation – the other stage – involves preparing and training the trust services who will use the patient portal, as well as setting up processes to ensure success. At Accurx, we believe in creating software that just works, so that team members can start using the digital platform and the portal immediately. Training for team members should be simple, ensuring that they are confident and ready to respond to any incoming patient messages and requests. Teams also need to agree on a recommended approach for handling incoming patient messages. As part of this, two or more team members – whether admin, clinical, or a combination of the two – must be dedicated to checking for and actioning patient messages.

When it comes to integration and implementation, it's vital to move at pace. Not only does the backlog make the need for a simple, effective patient engagement portal urgent, but staff only have limited capacity and time to roll out new software. From our experience, the best integrations enable trusts to see the benefits of a patient engagement portal as soon as possible, such as in waiting list reduction and cost savings. Integration work can run in parallel with implementation work, with most Trusts able to roll out a patient portal within just six weeks – a standard we hold ourselves to.

It’s through simple, intuitive tech like this that trust staff, who are working with limited resources and increasing staff shortages, can communicate with patients and make a significant impact on reducing their waiting lists.

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NHE May/June 2024

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