AN ONLINE booking system is freeing up thousands of hospital appointments which would have otherwise been wasted.

East Lancashire Hospitals Trust has switched from a traditional, letter-based appointment management system to a digital patient portal, saving £120,000 a year and freeing up 30,000 reusable appointments.

The trust processes 450,000 outpatient appointments a year across five hospitals and 17 community nursing locations in East Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen.

Wendy Cowgill, who has used the Digital Patient Portal as a patient, said: “Before we had the portal you’d have to wait for your appointment letter to arrive and if the appointment was at an inconvenient time you’d have to ring to cancel, re-arrange a new appointment and then wait for the arrival of a new appointment letter.

“The portal delivers digital appointment letters via a single text. You can access all your appointment information anytime, anywhere, and you get an instant ‘confirm’, ‘rebook’ or ‘cancel’ option. You also get an interactive home to hospital map and directions.

“It saves time. You have all the information at hand if you need to plan any other events, and you avoid double-booking.”

Daniel Driver, a supervisor in the trust’s booking centre, said: “Prior to the digital portal we were printing off hundreds of appointment letters daily. Printers would break due to the volume being processed which would lead to delays, and staff time was spent matching leaflets with appointment letters.

“The portal is a different way of sending appointment letters to patients along with any relevant information. It automatically matches up the relevant information leaflets required for specific clinics. We send new patients their appointment letters as soon as they are booked, even if this is weeks in advance, so that patients are aware of when they’re being seen. It reduces costs for us and confusion for patients.

“Patients can interact with the portal. They can confirm attendance, or rebook or cancel. We then act on the rebook or cancel responses at a time that fits in with our workload demands.”

The patient portal, which can be accessed via smartphones, tablets and desktops, gives patients appointment times and locations with the ability to confirm, rebook or cancel.

The portal was launched in July 2018 and by September, 54 per cent of patients had opted to receive their appointment letters and other information digitally, cutting the cost of appointment letters by 51 per cent.

Cheshire-based Healthcare Communications developed the messenger service and digital patient portal technology.