What is the best phone system for GP practices?

Choosing a GP Phone systemCommitting to a new phone system is a big decision for any GP practice: the phone remains your first and most important connection with patients. Not only are the vast majority of appointments still booked this way, but GPs are increasingly reliant on phones to deliver out-of-hours services. The wrong choice could be disastrous for your patients, your GPs and your reception team.

So how do you ensure your next phone system is the right one for your GP practice? In the following 500 words, we give you an idea of the questions you should be asking of your provider to ensure that your phones live up to the expectations of your patients and staff, and help you meet all your regulatory / contract commitments.

Patient call management

Let’s start where many practices are feeling the most stress: the ever-increasing demand on GP services is taking its toll on reception teams. Many have no means of effectively managing the inevitable morning surge, leaving receptionists to take the brunt of the pressure, triaging clients, persuading those with less urgent enquiries to call back, or trying to make an assessment of each patient’s need for urgent care. Rarely are receptionists trained to deal with this, and few have tools to help them, so many work under relentless pressure.

Your phone system can make a big difference to both your reception team’s job satisfaction and patient experience. The best GP practice phone systems can help alleviate this pressure in multiple ways: automated messages can help filter out non-urgent calls with advice to call back at quieter times, or diverting patients to self-care / online resources, while IVR can enable patients to be redirected to specific departments / individual practices best suited to help with their specific needs.

And it’s not just receptionists feeling the pressure

With CCGs now obliged to extend access to GP services outside of ‘normal’ hours, the pressure is on practices to find ways of providing additional appointments without adding to the currently significant pressure GPs are under. Already dealing with over 40 patient contacts a day, (Source – Pulsetoday) extending hours can create challenges for clinicians who worry about the quality of care they’re able to provide – and if they also want to maintain some semblance of a family life. Many have decided that retirement or becoming a career locum is a more attractive proposition than becoming a partnered GP.

The right phone system is one that’s able to easily re-route calls according to rota patterns, and enable inbound and outbound calls (and video consultations) to be made via GPs’ home phones or mobiles securely, freeing them from the surgery and enabling more patients to be given quality care in less time.

Think of the patients

It’s easy to paint patients as being too demanding, but rather than being the cause of GPs’ problems, they’re also suffering because of a broken system: many are pointed to GPs when other courses of action (including self-care, drop-in centres, pharmacies) could be more beneficial. Providing them with the right kind of automated messages can dramatically reduce the pressure on phone systems, either by encouraging non urgent callers to phone at a later time, or by providing information about self care, can have a dramatic impact on demand, and on patient satisfaction.

As one Scottish practice demonstrated earlier this year, providing information up front enables patients to make more informed choices about the right course of action to take and frees up both phone lines and waiting rooms as a result.

Stay flexible

As the demands on GP practices and the environment we operate in continue to change, it’s critical that your systems don’t tie you down. You need to strike a solid balance between a robust and secure platform, one that’s tried and trusted by a wide range of healthcare organisations and other professionals, and one that’s capable of evolving as your business – or as your patients’ demand on your business – does. That’s where the best, cloud-based phone systems come into their own.

Platforms like Sesui’s GP Connect don’t even require that you replace your existing hardware – they float above it in the cloud, meaning that even if individual surgeries within a practice group have different systems, they can be linked seamlessly together with software.

You can extend that further to remote practitioners, GP’s mobiles and home offices and add or remove connections for locums or overflow staff as and when required. And if you’re gearing up to offer video consultations, we can facilitate that too. (more on that here )

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