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Healthcare 6 Minutes

Sending important health and well-being information by mail can persuade patients to act

Healthcare mail is trusted, opened, shared, retained and, most importantly, motivates people to do what’s asked of them.

For the NHS, the issue of missed appointments is much greater than just a source of frustration, it’s estimated to cost around £1 billion pounds a year - enough to pay for 250,000 hip replacements (1). As such, improving attendance rates is a priority for all healthcare providers, no matter their size or what services they offer. Increasingly, the providers are sending texts and emails to confirm and remind people of their appointments. It can seem an attractive option as it’s quick and easy to deliver patient messages at a low cost. However, with so many appointments continuing to be missed every day, there is an extent to which this is a false economy that calls for providers to consider how other channels can be more effective.

Mail is trusted and seen as credible

New insight from Royal Mail shows the important role mail has to play across the healthcare sector given its unique blend of attributes, of which trust scores particularly strongly. With 87% of consumers regarding mail as being believable, compared to 48% for email (2), it’s apparent that using email alone has its shortcomings.

Whether you’re inviting your patients to a follow-up consultation, an annual health check or a screening, it’s vital that the person receiving the communication believes it’s legitimate and comes from a trusted source. We’ve become less trusting of digital messages we receive and not opening a text or email may be a contributing factor in why so many appointments are missed. Messages sent via mail, however, are favoured, as our new research reveals:

  • For every 100 healthcare letters that are sent, on average the letters are shared with an additional 20 people. It’s likely to be far higher for certain types of appointments or treatments or where the letters include test results. This shows how information sent through mail reaches far beyond the named recipient.(3)
  • Almost 43% of healthcare letters stay in the home for two weeks or more (4).
  • The average letter from a healthcare provider stays in the home for 7 days (5).
  • Healthcare letters are referred to more than 5 times (5.3 to be precise). As with other important mail, we know that it’s often displayed in a prominent place in the home whether that’s stuck on the fridge or pinned to a noticeboard (5).

Mail is often the most suitable method of communicating with patients

Mail is also a great way to provide a lot of information and detail, unlike an SMS text, for example. For a new or one-off patient, sending an appointment letter can set out exactly where they need to be and when, explain who they’re meeting and prepare them for what they need to do. Further still, it can include practical information such as how to get to the hospital, clinic or practice, details on where to park or how to get to the nearest station or bus stop. These details remove patients' concerns and reassure them - key factors in boosting appointment attendance rates.

The nature of the information healthcare professionals send to patients means that it’s often important and confidential. These are other attributes where mail outperforms digital. Mail is seen as much more appropriate for sending messages of this type, particularly for test results. Discreet testing kits can also easily be sent in the mail and posted through letterboxes.

Mail and digital

NHS Trusts and healthcare providers across the UK are under enormous pressure to make their budgets go further. The lower costs associated with digital communications, along with the growth in the usage of smartphones, has driven the use of text and email. For simple reminders to long-term patients, these methods of communication may work well. Yet, in many cases, combining mail with digital has tremendous power to get patients where you need them to be and at the right time.

The challenge for healthcare professionals and practitioners is to recognise where using mail will drive appointment attendance and is appropriate for the patient, and when a quick text instead may suffice. Those who can find the right blend of mail and digital communication have the best chance of delivering high quality patient care and eliminating unnecessary cost and inefficiency.


1. NHS digital

2. Mail in uncertain times, August 2017

3. JICMAIL, Q2-Q4 2017, Kantar TNS 2017

4. Local Government Research, 2017, Royal Mail Marketreach, Illuminas

5. Insight Engine, Marketreach, 2018

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