Improving communication with patients

“When I receive a letter confirming a hotel booking it is clear, concise and useful. I am instantly made to feel important and my confidence levels in that organisation soar.”

These are the words of Ian Green, who last week led a team of people at The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) with the common goal of dramatically improving communication levels between hospital staff and patients.

The week-long long Rapid Process Improvement Workshop (RPIW) as part of SaTH’s partnership with the Virginia Mason Institute in Seattle – the USA’s ‘Hospital of the Decade’ – took place on Clinic 10 (Ophthalmology) at The Royal Shrewsbury Hospital (RSH).

Ian, a Learning and Development Trainer at SaTH, said: “From speaking to patients and learning from letters of concern it became apparent that a large number of cancelled Ophthalmology appointments were a result of patients not understanding the letter we sent them.

“The feedback was that the appointment letters were too wordy and didn’t focus clearly enough on the important facts. As a result appointments are being postponed because patients are attending the wrong hospital or not bringing required items with them.”

He added: “By taking a week away from our day jobs and focusing on this small, but significant, area of work it quickly became obvious that changes were needed. At one time we had 40 different appointment letter templates all saying the same thing, but differently!

“We now have just one letter, and furthermore it is clear and concise – much like you’d expect from a hotel or a business. We have removed a lot of unnecessary information, bolded up the important details and put them into a text box.

“We’ve also put the name of the hospital that the appointment is to take place at in large font at the top of the page and colour coded it. The other thing we have done is add an advisory sentence about the importance of reading the letter in full.”

Ophthalmology Outpatients is the fourth area that SaTH is conducting improvement work through its partnership with the Virginia Mason Institute. It is estimated that improvements made last week could save SaTH more than £500,000 every year.

The RPIW also revealed it was taking 56 days for a patient to receive contact from SaTH following a referral to Clinic 10 from their GP.

Ian added: “This is obviously not acceptable so what will happen going forward, as a result of the RPIW, is patients will receive an acknowledgment letter from the Trust within seven days of being referred. We are not reinventing the wheel, but what we do hope to achieve is a greater reassurance, and therefore a better experience, for our patients.”

Patient feedback played a key part in last week’s RPIW, and throughout the week they team took guidance from a regular visitor to the department, Lin Stapely, a visually impaired patient, and her guide dog Woody.

Ian said: “Having Lin with us for the week was a huge asset. It is one thing testing our ideas with Doctors and Nurses but hearing the experience of a patient who regularly uses the clinic was invaluable.

“Lin had very clear ideas about what would help patients and what caused difficulties, and as a result of her input all staff on Clinic 10 will be trained to provide assistance to visually impaired patients. Staff will be required to attend a training course and a watch a short video which our Communications Team made for us during the week.”

The team will now monitor the improvements made during their RPIW in an effort to sustain and/or improve the results. They will report their findings to the public after 30 days, 60 days and 90 days. Initially the changes will be tested on Clinic 10 at RSH but if they prove successful they will then be implemented more widely across the Trust.


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