Is cloud telephony right for GP practices?
There’s a lot of confusion among GPs and practice managers about what exactly the best phone system is for a GP practice. That’s understandable – most practices just want a phone system that works, that helps manage patient calls more effectively and helps deliver on GP contract commitments such as out-of-hours access and remote consultation.
As some of the language around telephony can be a bit bewildering, let’s explore in simple terms what the options are for practices, what the real differences are between VoIP and Cloud, Hosted and on-premise, and what all this means in the specific context of healthcare. By the end of the article, we hope you’ll be more confident about making the right phone decision for your practice.
Cloud telephony versus on-premise
There is probably a fundamental question you need to answer first: Does it make sense for your practice to have its phone hardware on site, or to have it managed in a virtual environment in the cloud? There are practical and financial considerations to make here:
1: Up-front cost
If you’re looking to upgrade your phone system, finding the financial means to do so can be tough – especially in an operating environment where every cost needs to be justified. In this context, on-premise solutions can be prohibitive, as they usually require a substantial up-front investment in hardware and set-up. Although over the long-term this may make them more cost-effective, many practices find the subscription-based model of cloud telephony – which can also be attributed to operational cost, rather than a capital investment – a more palatable option.
2: On-going maintenance and support
The cost of a phone system failure could be catastrophic for a GP practice and its patients, so minimising the risk of that happening must be a key part of any buying decision. With an on-premise system, you will need to ensure that you either have the on-site staff (and related budget) or service agreement to make any significant changes, and to respond to any issues. Hosted and cloud platforms, on the other hand, will generally be fully managed for you, remotely, as part of your monthly costs. The only in-house skill you’ll need is system admin (often a practice manager) who can manage basic administration through a web portal.
3: Integration with other systems
There is often a preconception that on-premise systems are a better choice for GPs, as they enable custom development and integration with other systems (such as EMIS, Adastra, SystemOne, etc.) while cloud systems are “off-the shelf” platforms that just don’t adapt. This is an increasingly outdated view as cloud systems often come with proven APIs to aid custom integrations or there are specialist providers such as Sesui, who have tried, tested and accredited integrations with the key healthcare platforms and other back-office tools.
4: Adding email and other channels (omnichannel capability)
Another area where cloud telephony platforms come into their own is the ability to add new modules. Patients are increasingly used to using other channels to contact retailers and public services and their interactions with GP practices will surely follow suit in time: being able to add modules that allow you to manage patient emails – or even social messages – alongside traditional phone calls will become more and more important to practices. While that can be a challenge with on-premise solutions – often requiring adding additional service providers – with cloud solutions, it’s more likely a case of simply switching on the required functionality where needed.
This is perhaps most pertinent when it comes to video integration – being able to simply add video functionality when your practice is ready, and to conduct video consultations through the very same system as your phone appointments is a far simpler proposition than adding entirely new systems, apps, and data silos to your on-premise system.
5: Future changes
GP practices are undergoing significant changes in the way they provide services, and the way in which they interact with other parts of the primary and urgent care system. Understandably, many practice managers and GPs are reticent about investing in technology if they’re not sure how that technology might be put to use in the future.
This is where cloud really comes into its own: unlike an on-premise solution, cloud telephony is almost infinitely flexible. That means, in the event of practice mergers, to route more calls to remote staff, or to build in more capacity to deal with an unexpected peak in patient calls, your cloud system will have you covered, while your on-premise solution will likely struggle, requiring manual intervention to set up new lines and routings.
If you’re considering the benefits of moving your surgery’s telephony to the cloud, or simply want to understand the implications of doing so in greater detail, do drop us a line. We’ve helped many practices and several federations migrate their telephony to the cloud, so understand exactly the challenges and concerns GPs and practice managers might have.