A new strategic guide, called the Delivery Plan for Recovering Access to Primary Care, was published by the Department of Health and Social Care in May 2023. Among the measures introduced, the plan calls for GP practices and other medical services to evaluate the efficacy of their phone systems and make swift, decisive changes.
Led by NHS England, the initiative hopes to make it easier for patients to contact their doctors by phone, encouraging investment in digital phone systems that will tackle the ‘8 a.m. rush’ for appointments and eliminate the common scenario where patients are told to call back another day.
Let’s look at what these changes mean, the deadlines in place, and how primary care providers can respond to upgrade their communications and improve long-term patient satisfaction ratings.
Why Are Doctors Surgeries Being Instructed to Upgrade Their Communications?
The mandated changes instruct healthcare providers and primary care physicians to replace legacy phone systems with faster, more agile and responsive digital phones as soon as possible.
In part affected by the planned switch-off of the PSTN network in 2025, the new contract for GPs has recognised some of the call-handling features digital phone systems offer and the many beneficial impacts on patient care and access to medical professionals.
GPs are being advised to implement:
- Improved call queuing to manage patient calls when lines are busy.
- Call back functions to ensure every patient is responded to.
- Call routing to other primary care providers such as pharmacies and administrative teams to ease pressure on reception staff within surgeries.
Practices must also integrate new cloud based phone systems with existing systems to ensure patients can be traced by matching their contact numbers to patient records.
We would recommend healthcare managers and practice owners start preparing now, auditing the phone systems in place, and evaluating the right cloud-hosted communications to meet the targets set to ensure they are ready to transition.
The Advantages of Advanced Cloud-Based Phone Systems in the Medical Sector
The functionalities and features available through high-quality cloud-based phone systems are ideally suited to healthcare providers, responding to emergency calls faster, expanding the capacity to answer high volumes of calls and improving patient care standards.
Among the many useful features clinics, hospitals, and practices may wish to introduce, we can advise on solutions that offer:
- Automated messages to direct patients to online information, apps or education resources where a medical appointment is unnecessary.
- Recorded guidance on how to make an appointment, when to contact the practice or how to reschedule a procedure or consultation.
- Filtering to prioritise urgent calls and queue calls in order of the nature of the call, such as putting emergency calls ahead of appointment or prescription requests.
- Redirecting critical calls to 999 or the 111 services, particularly during out-of-hours periods when leaving a message would not be appropriate.
- Digital consultation functionality making it easier for patients with transport issues or limited mobility to meet with their GP or nurse remotely.
In November 2022, the Royal College of General Practitioners reported a rising number of complaints made about GP practices related to services being overstretched, with 10% linked to the lack of available appointments or the length of waiting times.
Using technologically advanced resources and phone systems can actively address these areas, boosting the speed at which patients can find the information they are looking for and triaging calls to assign priority levels.
Implementing Positive Changes in Patient Communications Through Digital Telephony
The NHS has set a target for 1,000 GP practices to transition their phones over to digital and cloud-based systems by the end of this year, hoping that 65% of surgeries will evolve their technology. The remaining practices are expected to have made the same changes by the deadline of March 2024.
Therefore, practices and community clinics with ongoing phone contracts may still need to make adjustments to comply with the cut-off points before these contracts end.
Our experienced telephony advisers can provide independent recommendations about the best phone solutions for your practice, with important factors such as:
- The systems you have in place – ensuring your digital phone lines are compatible with other assets used in your practice.
- The volume of calls you make and receive – having flexible capacity ensures that patients have a positive experience, whether they call at a peak time or during a quiet period.
- The needs of your patient cohort – additional features designed to improve accessibility for patients with limited hearing may be valuable to your practice.
- The budget you have to invest – the government has announced a £240 million fund to assist GP surgeries in transitioning to cloud-based telephony.
The features you choose can be adapted to your specific requirements, with options such as voicemail-to-email recording, ideal for peer-to-peer communications with other medical providers, voicemail controls and your choice of on-hold music.
One of the many positives following a switch to a cloud-based phone system is that calls are significantly cheaper, and systems easier to maintain due to the reliance on IP connectivity rather than copper cabling.
Using a managed telephony service provider ensures you minimise potential downtime or system faults and can make or receive as many calls as necessary without experiencing cost pressures.
Professional Advice for GP Surgeries Transitioning To a New Primary Care Telephone System
Whether you need to find the right ways to replace outdated phone systems in your practice or are keen to introduce fast-paced new digital patient services, Maximum Networks can help.
We work with a variety of clients across the healthcare sector, from private clinics to surgeries and residential care facilities, delivering added value advisory services, full commissioning and installation and long-term support with telephony and IT support to keep your back-office functions working smoothly.
Picking the right primary care telephone system will ensure you are in full compliance with evolving mandates, can provide the best possible patient care, and can reduce your overheads simultaneously.
Please get in touch at any time or complete our short enquiry form to request a callback.