Westcourt Medical Centre service over 13,000 patients in the Rustington area, with a higher than average aged demographic. Westcourt also functions as a training practice, accommodating trainee GPs, student nurses and trainee paramedics.
Westcourt Medical Centre contracted a new phone system 5 years ago, but found it didn't meet expectations as the practice grew, and even pre-COVID was limiting effective patient contact. The advent of COVID further exposed the limitations of the practice phone system as Clair Fallows, Practice Manager, explains "As soon as the pandemic hit us last March we had to limit footfall within the practice and revert to telephone triage all the way. The demands on the phone system were enormous and, because of the age of the system, it couldn't cope; it would drop out and patients couldn't even be in a queue. They were just receiving an engaged tone, which made us unreachable for a lot of people."
The practice realised they needed to upgrade their phone system but "the charges to leave the contract early were ginormous. And sadly, we couldn't get any sort of financial assistance to get us out of it, so we had to wait.
"We would have joined X-on in April 2020, but it just wasn't financially viable. X-on did everything to try and help us, including absorbing the cost of the early termination charges and spreading it out over the term of the contract, but it was just too much money."
The Pandemic Effect
As Clair points out, the advent of COVID should have prioritised telephony in General Practice for the Government: "The telephone systems should have been the first point of call, not webcams, not text messaging, not eConsult. It should have been telephone systems because people want to talk to someone, they don't want to necessarily send in a text message or have an eConsult. So, I do think it was very short-sighted."
Correctly funded communications might have seen practices like Westcourt able to upgrade their telephony much earlier in the pandemic allowing better call handling: "We really needed the lovely amount of tech that was thrown at us. We have features that we've been crying out for, for years, suddenly landed on our doorstep, which is brilliant.
"We are very happy, but it would have been great if the government had realised that a lot of telephone systems were just not fit for purpose at the point of the pandemic and funded to buy us out of existing contracts to start up with something like Surgery Connect."
Surgery Connect's unlimited queueing immediately relieved Westcourt's capacity constraints, ensuring patients never received an engaged tone, along with features light years ahead of those available on their previous system: "I loved the fact that you could have infinite queueing, the fact that people could get through and actually know they were in a queue. The fact that they were told the number in the queue and Patient Callback is phenomenal. I love it. I love it. And we've had a lot of comments from our patients that the telephone system overall is just such a vast improvement on what we had before."
Surgery Connect's ability to work remotely with full functionality was also a major improvement for Westcourt Medical Centre: "During the pandemic it was so helpful that my shielding clinicians could work from home and log into the system using their mobile and their landline and it would show up as a surgery number, brilliant."
Comprehensive reporting allows Clair to make informed decisions on the allocation of resources: "we've now added in a number of different options to ascertain where the calls are going. So is it for general appointments, do they want to check on their prescription, do they want to find out where a referral is, or are they waiting for a test result? Your system can set that up within 15 minutes. Fantastic!"
One of the biggest changes for Clair with the switch to Surgery Connect is messaging: "Previously if we noticed a sudden influx of calls because the government had announced something, I used to get panicked receptionists and team leaders coming to me saying 'we need to change the phone message'. With our previous system, I would have to record it into my mobile phone, send it to my personal account where I would convert it into an MP3, making sure that it was at the right amplification and without pops and clicks. Then I'd have to send it from my personal account to the telephone provider, because NHS mail wouldn't allow us to attach those sort of files at that point; nightmare. Now I can just use one of your lovely voices, just type it up and it's done, dusted."
Westcourt Medical Centre Says
"The functionality you provide us, it's just unbelievable. If you compare it to what we had previously, it's an absolute world apart.
"Don't be afraid of this system. It's really simple to get your head around and it makes life so much easier.
"I would highly recommend it, and tell people to get out of their contracts now and move to X-on."
Westcourt Medical Centre
For further information on Surgery Connect please call Sales on 0333 332 0000.