22 January 2024.

Isle of Wight NHS Trust has successfully implemented Healthcare Communications Waiting List Validation (WLV) resulting in a reduction in the backlog of appointments at the trust.

Patients were contacted via SMS regarding their place on waiting lists for procedures and prompted to fill out a digital form regarding their treatment plan and if they were still seeking treatment. During the project, the trust received a 70% response rate from patients and as a result able to safely remove 12% of patients from the waiting list that no longer needed treatment.

The project, which ran over a total of eight weeks, consisted of six weeks of planning and testing the system. Healthcare Communications worked closely with the trust to ensure the correct terminology and templates were in place during this period.

Over a further two weeks, patients who had been on specific waiting lists for more than 12 weeks received a text message from the trust regarding their treatment and if they still required an appointment or procedure. Patients on more than one waiting list were sent separate notifications for each one.

The text message contained a unique 4-digit code and a link to a short questionnaire about upcoming appointments. Once patients received the message, they had 24 hours to respond and complete. If patients did not respond, or there was no mobile telephone number on record, they would then receive a letter by post which contained a QR code to access the questionnaire.

During the waiting list validation two-week go-live, the trust set up a dedicated phone line and inbox for patients to contact for questions or queries.

In preparation for the go-live, the trust prioritised public education ahead of the text messages to ensure patients trusted the new SMS communication method. Jo Rodwell, Digital Communications Lead at Isle of Wight NHS Trust said: “We knew how important it was to establish patients’ trust in the SMS process, especially since this is the first of its kind for our organisation. Before go-live, we ran a public-facing communications campaign through online media to inform patients of the upcoming text message from the trust, to make them aware it was not a scam.”

“This included a press release to our local media outlets, a news story on our website, and posting on our social media feeds. After go-live, we had a good uptake from patients online using the service, proving a successful campaign.”

Rachel Dominey, Associate Director for Isle of Wight NHS Trust said: “Having never done a digital engagement exercise of this nature before, we were unsure how well it would be received on the Island particularly given the older population and misconception that patients prefer to telephone the hospital.  However, we were pleasantly surprised at the uptake from our patients to engage with the hospital digitally, with almost 20% saying they would like future communications to reach them via text message.”

Work is now underway at the trust to record more mobile phone numbers for patients and to unify all digital communications through the implementation of Healthcare Communications Patient Engagement Portal (PEP). Both Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Portsmouth have plans to go live with the regional PEP as early as April 2024 and further integration these solutions with the NHS App and Wayfinder later in the year.

Kenny Bloxham, Managing Director at Healthcare Communications, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support Isle of Wight NHS Trust in tackling waiting lists during the run up to a busy winter pressure period and when time is most precious for both patients and NHS staff. The quick success of this project not only reflects the dedicated efforts of the trust but also establishes a benchmark for other rural trusts serving ageing populations that might be hesitant to embrace digital technologies. We are proud to be part of the digital transformation journey for the trust and look forward to extending communication capabilities through the patient engagement portal launch next year.”