It goes without saying that the last two years have been incredibly difficult for everybody, not least for the NHS. The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact across the UK’s healthcare system.
However, despite Plan B guidelines recently put in place, patients are finding that they can return to some form of normality when it comes to accessing appointments with their GP surgeries. With the influx of winter illnesses and the new pressure to ramp up the vaccine booster programme amid the concerns about the new Omicron variant, surgeries are under the cosh all over again with pressure mounting on these surgeries to uphold their duty of care to ensure that patients have access to the help they need.
This means call volumes will increase considerably and it is imperative that GP surgeries have the right resources available to communicate and assist their patients, and this all starts with an effective telephone system.
Modern general practice telephone systems allow reception teams to handle the huge influx of calls they deal with on a daily basis. They offer improved call capacity, enabling more calls to be received and made at the same time, which is important while surgeries continue to use telephone appointments alongside face-to-face consultations.
An automated attendant can also be used to greet patients and direct them through to the correct channels to put those patients most in need through to the surgery team first. For example, those enquiring about test results may be directed through to a voicemail system for a call-back and by doing this they’re not sitting in a queue and potentially delaying a patient in urgent need of care.
Cloud-hosted phone systems also allow surgeries to make use of additional support during busier times by creating a mini call centre environment as admin staff jump on the phones to assist receptionists. These staff members can log in and out of the specific call handling group as and when the rush of calls come in, relieving some of the pressure on the already very busy reception team and shortening wait times for patients.
Wait times are an issue for many GP surgeries. Being told “You are 27th in the queue” is not an unusual occurrence from our experience. At least these patients are in a queue though and are not being met by an engaged tone. They may have to wait but they know their call will be dealt with. We use modern technology to try to shorten call queues as quickly as possible, including linking to patient management systems so that the records of the patient calling are loaded up and ready for reference when the call is answered, which should drive call and wait times down.
It is also worth noting that these telephone systems can work across multiple sites. With many practices merging and forming larger GP groups, it is vital that teams from each site can communicate with one another effectively, not to mention take the pressure off one another during those busy call times while staff shortages are such an issue.
Technology cannot chase away COVID-19 or winter illnesses, but it can help manage the call volume pressures. Practice managers can keep abreast of call volumes with live and historical statistics to plan staffing levels and even on days when staff numbers are reduced, it is better to be placed in a queue than no-one answer a call at all.
If your surgery wants to make the move to a cloud-hosted system, in line with NHS England’s plan for general practice, or if you are dissatisfied with your current solution or supplier, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com.