Primary Healthcare

“It does provide good value for money. In fact, overall it’s an excellent system that does exactly what it says on the tin.”
James Young Practice Manager White Medical Group

“It has helped with patient communication, improved patient satisfaction and reduced call congestion.”
Simon Royal Practice Manager Burnley Wood Medical

Secondary Healthcare

“It is an excellent system which helps to alleviate congestion, improve staff morale, improve patient access and promote self management. In my opinion, all walk-in clinics should opt to have this system installed.”

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“Not only is VC Smart Mail easy to use once set up, it also saves us time and money,” explains Simon.

“The system sorts all the letters out for us. It also reduces costs in two different ways: firstly in terms of staff time, and secondly the cost of sending the letters out is cheaper than we could do ourselves.”

Survey shows GP practice managers against patient call centres

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Voice Connect has carried out a nationwide survey of GP practice managers gauging reaction to the Government’s proposal to use external call centres for patient calls. Of the 763 practice managers who replied, 91.5% were opposed to the proposals, with a similar number expressing concern that using call centres would do nothing to improve patient experience. The survey was conducted by communications specialists Voice Connect, who are based in Groby and IMC Research.

Participants were asked if they felt that a call centre would offer a better service for patients than calling in to their own reception. Only 3.5% said that they thought it would be an improvement, whilst the majority of respondents cited three key areas of concern. These were the importance of the relationship between patient and practice, the complexity of technical integration and the issue of patient confidentiality. Only 2.6% thought that patients would welcome the idea of contacting a call centre rather than the practice, with particular concerns raised about how the elderly would cope.

“The vast majority of practice managers clearly think that this scheme is unworkable, unwanted and unnecessary,” comments Voice Connect’s MD Stefan Olsberg. “We have never seen such conclusive results from a survey that we have conducted. Their comments have been almost universally negative about these proposals, expressing scepticism over the practicality of the scheme and the possibility that it would actually save any money.”

There are already lower cost ways that surgeries can use to improve patient communication such as the automated telephone appointment booking system known as Patient Partner, developed by the Leicester based company specifically for doctors’ surgeries.. This enables patients to book, cancel or re-arrange appointments out of normal hours and speak to their GPs receptionist when they are open.
“Systems like Patient Partner have been proven to enhance patient satisfaction, offer better access and reduce costs,” explains Olsberg. “The Government should consider alternatives before embarking down this expensive and counterproductive route.”

Background information

Survey results in full:

1. Do you think that the idea of call centres handling your patient calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is generally a good idea?

Yes – 4.6% No – 91.5% Other 3.9%

2. If call centres are put into service so that patients can call 24/7, what effect do you think this is likely to have on your surgery’s service to your patients?

Improve – 3.5% Worsen – 85.2% Stay same – 3.8% Other – 7.5%

Do you think that your patients will welcome the idea of call centres?

Yes 2.6% No – 88.3% Other – 9.0%

Do you think that your patients will use the service by calling the issued call centre number or do you think they will still try to call the surgery direct?

Use new service – 1.7% Existing number 90.0% Other 8.3%

Comments from practice managers included:

“The idea of call centres was dreamt up by somebody in the NHS who has no experience of general practice and real world of patients.”

“If life was only that simple! Our receptionists know each of our clinicians’ special interests and can change appointment types to accommodate patients. A call centre would require appointment types to remain fixed losing that flexibility. Receptionists do not just make appointments in our surgery so even if a central appointment system was introduced and worked it would not alter the need to have the same number of receptionists. Patients that use the services the most tend to make their future appointments whilst visiting the surgery so a call centre really wouldn’t help.”

“I don’t know what bozo thought up the idea but they obviously don’t work at a GP surgery otherwise they would realise that receptionists do far more than book appointments in this modern age.”

“Totally crazy idea. Patients want to speak to people who know them, not a faceless person who has no idea of the patient’s circumstances and needs. A patient needs to feel part of a family and the practice gives that feeling.”

“We have over 8000 patients registered with us. I have had lengthy conversations with several patients who have voiced concerned over this. Overall, the point they make is that continuity is paramount and the fact that we know the patient, we know their medical and social history and they know us makes providing primary care services to them more tailored to their own needs. Patients do not want to hear a stranger on the phone. They want to speak to the receptionist who has helped them regularly for years and who knows how to communicate with the patient effectively.”