If you have been to your GP surgery recently, your experience will have been very different to what you have been used to. You may have had to wait outside to be let into the surgery, waiting rooms would have been largely empty, and flu vaccinations might have been taking place from units in the car park.
GP surgeries are doing their very best to ensure groups of potentially poorly people do not congregate in their buildings, which means they have had to change the way they carry out appointments. Web-based e-consults are being used more frequently with GPs replying via text message where appropriate or arranging telephone appointments. As fast as face-to-face appointments have been falling, telephone appointments have been rising.
While addressing the Royal College of Physicians in London, health secretary Matt Hancock reported that in the four weeks to mid-April, 71% of routine GP appointments were carried out remotely against 25% in the same period a year before. While a GM Journal article states that prior to the coronavirus outbreak, 90% of GP consultations were face to face, and in the space of two months since lockdown, 90% are now done remotely.
For GP surgeries with older phone systems, phone appointments will result in a considerable cost. Outgoing calls to landline and mobile numbers will add up at a time when all health services will be feeling the financial strain of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, surgeries will be experiencing a rise in calls from patients who are beginning to suffer from seasonal illnesses, who want to book flu vaccinations or are concerned about the rising number of coronavirus cases. Receptionists will need to deal with all these calls while GPs and nurses are trying to call out. Therefore call capacity may be a challenge too resulting in lengthy call queues, patients being met with the engaged tone or healthcare staff unable to make their outgoing calls.
Our healthcare consultants have helped numerous GP surgeries update their phone systems since lockdown began. The pandemic has meant some have had to upgrade sooner than planned to accommodate the rising number of telephone consultations.
Our solutions also enable staff to work from home, so these consultations can be carried out remotely if anyone needs to self-isolate.
Recorded welcome messages can be changed remotely in case a surgery has to close unexpectedly while comfort messages can be played to customers in the call queue to give them updated information.
All outgoing calls are free thanks to using internet-supported telephone lines known as SIP trunks. Surgeries still using traditional PSTN and ISDN lines will be incurring this everyday cost as they will be making calls at peak times and to mobiles.
Flexibility and capacity is key for GP surgeries right now as coronavirus cases reach new highs in the UK. Any still suffering with an older phone system will doing exactly that...suffering. If you want to find out more about how a new phone system could assist you at this challenging time, then please contact me.
Do not worry if a lack of capital is an issue as these solutions are purchased on a subscription basis for often less that you will be spending on outgoing calls.
You can find out more in our guide here: Introducing cloud-hosted communications for general practice