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.
For trust staff, they can use Accurx to manage their waiting lists by:
- Removing patients on the waiting list who no longer need to be seen, at scale, with a single message asking if they still require the service.
- Avoiding unnecessary appointments by transferring relevant patients waiting for follow ups to a digital pathway, allowing them to request contact only if and when they need it.
- Easily triaging patient requests to manage incoming demand, prioritise and decide the most appropriate route of care for patients on one platform.
- Resolving healthcare needs digitally through delivering more care outside of appointments, whether via online consultation, approving a request for a repeat prescription or offering guidance over SMS.
- Reducing DNAs through messaging patients on waiting lists at scale to confirm upcoming appointments and send clinical questionnaires or information. This lets trusts run clinics smoothly, and move patients through waiting lists more efficiently.
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.
During the period when teams are being trained, the Accurx Implementation team will work with the Trust project team to agree key metrics to track throughout the project, and ongoing project governance. The implementation process will also involve collaborating with the Trust Communications team to send out patient information and communications.
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. At Accurx, we work with speed and efficiency to carry out simple and quick integrations and implementation so that a Trust can see the benefits of a patient portal quickly, 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 tech like this that Trust staff, who are working with limited resources and increasing staff shortages, can more easily communicate with patients and manage growing waiting lists.