We ran a survey in the last few weeks to get a clear picture of general practice telephony requirements and challenges as the pandemic continues to put extra pressure on our primary care services. As a reseller, it is easy to assume you understand a certain sector’s issues but it is always good to check in to make sure you are up to date so you can design solutions accordingly.
The standout result from our survey was that 80% of recipients said some of their patients were being met by the engaged tone when calling their surgery and 50% that reported their staff were sometimes prevented from making an outbound call. This is all about call capacity; having enough lines so that staff can handle multiple concurrent calls at one time. With 90% of recipients saying telephone appointment are here to stay, this presents an issue.
In addition, 40% said they were not yet using an automated attendant to greet every call before directing them to the most relevant member of staff. This amazed me as this is technology that has been around for as long as I have been in the industry. Some surgeries may prefer to answer calls personally, but if patients are being met by the engaged tone, then that ideal does not seem to be sustainable.
The survey also revealed the majority did use call queuing and half used wallboards to monitor the number of queued calls, missed calls, length of calls, abandoned calls and length of time to answer calls. These statistics are critical when it comes to QoF assessments, so it is surprising that they are not upping their call capacity to reduce the number of calls that are met by the engaged tone, as no doubt they will be a source of patient complaints.
Another highlight was that 50% of surgeries are already using call recording and a third are considering it for the future. With the recent rise of telephone appointments, call recording will be more important than ever to protect staff in the event of a complaint or disagreement.
The last surprising element was that home working was not something that GP surgeries were seemingly concerned about. Two-thirds of our respondents did not think it was relevant or did not have a home working solution in place. It seems general practice staff are still heading into their premises even if they could work from home if managing calls or carrying out telephone appointments. My experience is that GPs tend to make their calls in between face-to-face appointments or at the end of the day so they do remain on site.
The pleasing part of this process was that we know we are selling solutions that are still relevant in the pandemic landscape. We deploy cloud-hosted general practice telephony solutions that will prepare surgeries for the ISDN switch-off, can offer additional call capacity for incoming and outgoing calls, call queuing and automated attendant functionality, and call recording. Our solutions can also be integrated with the practice management systems, such as EMIS (the leading medical system according to our survey) and SystmOne.
It seems that there is still a way to go before all GP surgeries have the phone systems they need to support their work, especially in the testing times we have all endured in the last 15 months. I hope you have found this blog insightful.
Thanks to all our practice manager respondents, who took the time to take part despite their busy work schedules. You can still contribute to our survey here. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to find out more about general practice telephony solutions.