The summer months are tough on GP surgeries. Staff head off on their holidays while surgeries in tourist areas have to cope with extra patients. It only takes one or two members of staff to leave or to be off sick at the same time and, all of a sudden, taking calls and offering appointments becomes difficult.
I recently rang a surgery that had a recorded telephone message explaining that patients would have to bear with them as they were very short staffed and calls were taking longer to answer. I hung up after seven minutes. Many patients will understand and will appreciate the message. Others will be far less, well, patient. A glance at GP surgery social media accounts reveals the level of frustration patients feel when they cannot get through to their practice.
Having worked with general practice contacts for many years, I also get a little frustrated as I know there is technology available to assist GP surgeries when staff numbers are low.
A change of telephone system can make all the difference and this is borne out by a recent testimonial on our Practice Index listing. The surgery in question had been struggling to answer all its calls. Having switched to a hosted phone system from us, the practice manager said: “We have just seen the results from the 2019 GP Patient Survey. Our call handling has gone from one of the worst in our CCG to one of the best. swcomms have helped us to achieve this improvement by providing us with such a good system.”
This practice manager did not really know what technology he needed but he knew what his issues were. By explaining them to us, we were able to design a solution that would answer his pain points.
A hosted phone system is primed to give surgeries extra call capacity and the means to make calls more efficient. Using extra phone lines and enabling admin staff to handle calls from their handsets during busy times are key. You can even allow calls to overflow to other branch sites.
Even if you cannot deal with every call immediately, it is crucial every call is answered and directed to the right person. Most surgeries will use automated attendant messages to advise patients to call 999 in an emergency and to call back after lunch if they are seeking test results. Where the patient wants to book an appointment, a surgery phone system needs a fair queuing system that informs patients of their place in the queue and how long they are likely to wait.
Surgeries can use live statistics and wallboards too to inform staff of the number of people waiting in the queue.
When their call is answered by a receptionist or member of the admin staff, the patient’s record immediately populates their PC screen, care of integration with patient management systems, such as EMIS and SystmOne. This helps to make conversions more efficient.
Where surgeries are struggling with GP numbers, they may find it useful to use telephone triage appointments to see if a face-to-face consultation is really necessary. These outgoing calls, often to mobiles and at peak times, can be costly. All calls to UK landlines and mobiles are free from a hosted phone system. These calls can also be recorded too in case details need to be checked in the event of a dispute.
While I know telephony technology can help, many surgeries will just say there is no budget. One of the best benefits of a hosted phone system is that they do not require any upfront capital. They are simply paid for on a per month per user basis, including support and upgrade costs. We find cost savings for 80% of the surgeries we visit, as they end up paying less than they total amount of their current lines, calls and support.
Lastly, with primary care networks forming across the UK, a hosted phone system is perfect for merging PCN member surgeries. Handsets simply link together at cloud level and any additional sites are added on a per user basis.
I have a great deal of sympathy for surgeries that are struggling with staff shortages, especially with flu season around the corner. If you feel you need our help in creating a robust infrastructure that can cope with fluctuations in staff, do not hesitate to contact me.