Some GP surgeries have been offered the chance to become involved in a pilot to open their doors from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. How can the telecommunication industry help them in this Government-let quest to accommodate a 24/7 society?
Prime Minster David Cameron announced £50 million would be made available to support this plan, which will include offering patients appointments via the telephone, similar to the triage consultations offered by some GP surgeries already, as well as Skype and more flexible face to face access to GP time.
In a BBC report, Mr Cameron said: “Many hardworking people find it difficult to take time off to get that GP appointment, so having these pilot schemes is, I think, a very positive step forward.”
And Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "We live in a 24/7 society and we need GPs to find new ways of working so they can offer appointments at times that suit hardworking people."
However, the Royal College of GPs said doctors were keen to do more, but were already struggling with their workload.
So what can be done to alleviate the strain already put on GP practices and their staff?
Can communications technology help in any way?
Having a modern telephone system with all the relevant features and functions will certainly help.
Call queuing, automated attendant and intelligent call handling technology will relieve the stress put on receptionists and patients at the peak time of 8am on weekdays; these same features can be used to fairly and efficiently handle calls at a weekend or when calls come in at the end of a working day.
A call queuing system will make sure that all calls are answered in the order they were received while ensuring that patients knows where they are in the queue and that their call is being dealt with.
An automated attendant feature answers all calls and can provide advice on appropriate times of the day to call, as well as offering options to speak directly to the most relevant person for their call, such as for appointments or repeat prescriptions. Further options could be added for telephone consultations only or for evening appointments.
Intelligent call handling can be used to enable back office staff to log into the reception group at busy times of the day to assist receptionists when they are coping with an influx of calls.
If more consultations are going to be made over the phone, then call recording will become a must-have telephony service for GP surgeries.
Not only will this create evidence to help protect them in a litigious society but to also accurately recall and save entire conversations as part of electronic patient records which can be listened to at a later date
Skype consultations also create challenges in that, as most people will have experienced, a Skype session is only as good as your Internet connection.
It would be very a frustrating appointment if your GP was suddenly cut off due to poor broadband speeds.
The technology can sound alarming but we have been helping GP surgeries use telecommunications technology to positive effect for 30 years.
The 24/7 society is a challenge; but can be certainly eased with considered advice and knowledgeable support.