The main challenge GP surgeries will face in the next few months is the increase in patient calls. The winter months, which GPs class as December to March, are relentless. Already stretched surgeries feel under increased pressure at this time of the year.
Added pressure on telephone systems
As the colder months set in, surgery telephone systems can fail to cope with the demand put on them. Patients are often met by an engaged tone, which is very frustrating when all they want to do is either speak to a doctor or arrange an appointment because they are feeling unwell. If patients cannot get through to their surgery, they may head to A&E which then puts pressure on the NHS as a whole.
Modern telephone solutions are designed to cope with this demand. Built-in features, such as the automated attendant and call queuing functions, are especially useful at this time of the year. Every call will be answered with a recorded message offering patients a number of options – these options can be changed by practice managers to suit the season, the time of day, staffing levels, etc. For example, “Press 1 for urgent calls, 2 for appointments, 3 results,” and so on.
Meanwhile, the surgery can also broadcast messages while patients are waiting for their call to be answered. This feature could be used to inform patients about flu vaccination clinics, to give out advice on cough and colds, or to suggest they seek advice from their local pharmacists or NHS 111 service for less urgent ailments to relieve some of the pressure placed on the practice.
For the patients that do need appointments, many practices are choosing to carry out telephone consultations in the first instance. These outgoing calls are often to mobiles which can prove rather expensive.
This cost can be alleviated by switching to a hosted telephone system, which has an inclusive call package, or by migrating to SIP trunks trunks to take advantage of cheaper calls. Both solutions enable GP surgeries the ability to increase their call capacity to decrease the possibility of patients being met by the engaged tone.
Will your telephone system cope with the winter months ahead?
So as November nears its end, the question I would urge practice managers to consider is: “Will your telephone system cope with the winter months ahead?” If you have your doubts, then speak to experts who can advise you on the various options available not only to improve your patients’ experience but to also to identify savings.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any help at all.