The NHS tells us we will all be booking appointments on a free app by the end of 2018. But the number and duration of calls to GP Appointments lines is still rising steadily.
No doubt millennials are enthusiastically adopting the use of the plethora of apps available to manage their healthcare. However they tend not to be the sickest part of the population. My mother, who I think I mentioned before, has now abandoned her smartphone for a rather simpler affair with numbered buttons. She finds it less confusing, and in any case would rather entrust an overview of the severity of her symptoms to a (fairly) friendly voice.
She is more typical of the demographic who will use the phone to engage with healthcare services. More interesting still (and the evidence is available), it is the disadvantaged areas of the country where telephone queues are at the worst. Patients will wait for more than an hour to speak to somebody to tell them whether they can get an appointment. Many of them will be on Pay As You Go mobiles making "Free at the point of access" somewhat of a fantasy.
Yet we have technology that, if it doesn't eliminate the problem, can certainly make an impact. Here is a selection:
- Queue Busting: A patient, when discovering that they are number 32 in the queue can request an automated call back from the practice phone system at the point when they would have reached the front. Call costs and frustration are dramatically reduced.
- No Appointments Message: Practice staff can trigger a message played to patients before and during the queue when there are no appointment slots available for the current day. Patients can be signposted with messages for alternative services.
- Self Serve Cancellations: When a patient has been identified as already having an appointment booked, the menu can give them the option of cancelling without waiting in the queue. The Clinical System is updated and the slot available immediately for other patients. Automated booking of triage calls also available for those patients who wish to use it.
- Patient Identification: Speed the process of handling calls by automated patient identification and switching clinical records or allow patient specific automation of the call.
Telephony in the cloud is allowing General Practice to deploy such solutions at a scale and economy that would not have worked in the past. Apps will make a difference, but they won't fix everything. Investment across the communication pathways is necessary to maximise efficiency in a health service under pressure.