Are practices looking to the future and embracing available technology?

It’s perhaps not so long ago that most people still walked into their bank on the high street to pay-in over the counter or make a withdrawal; our traditional bank manager waving at us in the queue, hoping we’d come to make an appointment with them about increasing our mortgage. 

Today’s banking experience is quite different, with online and telephone capabilities being central. Even when visiting the bank the first staff member in sight is usually a host there to empower us to use automated, self-service machines. 

Whether we like it or lump it, technical advancement has completely transformed the way we bank. So what comparisons can be drawn with general practice? 

I have travelled across the country visiting many different practices and see varying levels of technology being adopted. Most practices understand the need, but I often question whether they are aware of all that is available? Equally as important a question: how will the practice go about introducing new technologies to the patients, overcoming the inevitable resistance to change and instead taking a collaborative approach with the PPG? 

While resistance to change is nothing new, I get the sense that most Practice Managers and patients know why it is needed. Many are used to doing things a certain way – but most would rather be on the forefront of change than have it imposed on them by outside organisations or forces. 

Embracing new and emerging technology has never been as important to Practice Managers as it is now. At a time when practices are stretched to capacity, is it worth investing the time and effort to develop a reasonable approach to adopting those technologies available? In this article I explore some of the potential benefits of investing in the technology (or even perhaps saving cost rather than a need to actually invest), readily available and already proven to assist practice staff, along with patients who need to easily access GP services with lessening frustration. 

You’re a business, but unlike any other!

This is perhaps a crucial aspect which gets overlooked. General practices are a business... but what other businesses have much of their customer base ringing them first thing in the morning demanding to be seen? Here we encounter the first challenge; how can we accommodate the spike in calls while minimizing frustration to the patient? 

Communications technology now offers appropriate routing, call-queuing & position reporting. Music, messaging on hold and ‘voicemail to e-mail’ can all provide more effective routes for patients, including cancellations and help to contribute to a reduction in DNAs. The phones are often the ‘First Touch’ that a patient experiences, therefore employing the correct technology can also make the difference to a disgruntled patient, and one who feels happy and empowered.

Keeping patients in the loop 

The growing majority of patients now register their mobile numbers as best point of contact. If your patients are anything like me they’ll have their surgery’s telephone number in their contacts as ‘Doctors’. Receiving a call or text from ‘Doctors’ will prompt immediate notice and SMS is a hugely effective way in which to keep your patients informed with  appointment reminders, and general information such as flu jab reminders and even surveys (if kept minimal). 

Furthermore, your patient’s mobile devices can be accessed by sending useful and informative landing pages to their device as they arrive in your waiting rooms. Not only does this provide enhanced routes to information for your patients, but it could also assist in elevating some frustrations in the actual waiting for the consultation. 

Empowering practices with statistical transparency

It’s difficult to manage expectations with frustrated patients who are trying to get through on the phone, and this is made no easier if you’re in the dark statistically. 

Call management information can be essential in reducing such frustrations by demonstrating the reality of call attempts. Managers tell me that being able to substantiate and deal with common complaints like “I called on Monday morning and was waiting for half an hour” is invaluable. 

It was also recently demonstrated that by adopting appropriate technology, abandoned call rates can be reduced by up to 92%. Effectively managing call volumes and being aware of the actual statistics plays a crucial part in this. 

Business Continuity

Gone are the days in which any business need rely on its communications provider to attempt to re-route an ISDN in its own time when there’s any issue, whether it be a local exchange problem or an issue at the premise, today’s alternative technology can allow for you to divert calls to a path suitable. So, there’s no need to create ongoing bottleneck with patient access when things don’t quite go the way you expect, you can easily and immediately divert patient calls to anywhere. 

For the record...

Technology advancement now provides call recording in many ways which can be built in to your system rather than needing to be a stand-alone PC. If you decide to utilise call recording for every call, training purposes or simply as a back-up when required, technology now brings cost effective choice to your existing PC screen and allows you easy access to storage as and when required. 

You can be in control

Expensive engineers scheduled to visit and carry out tweaks or upgrades at additional cost can now be avoided. With technology offering you the ability to control messaging, schedules, moves, adds and changes, most reputable providers will offer free back-up to carry-out such alterations immediately at no extra charge as this can be achieved remotely. 

The future

Of course I’m not suggesting that banking is the same as general practice. Although, similarly to checking a statement or applying for a credit card, your patients can go online and book appointments, however (unlike with banking) there always will be a majority who need to speak to you. 

Often there is an emotive personal need, which online will surely never replace for most of us, but as telephone banking becomes increasingly more and more popular then perhaps this could provide an insight to the practice environment to how technology could help evolve patient access and consultations further. 

The future becomes interesting when you consider the real advancement of technology, today and emerging, coupled with more and more practices working closer together, federated/clustered or not. 

On many occasion throughout my visits to practices, doctors have indicated one of the most important initial factors of general practice is to see the patient. I’m informed that actually being able to see the patient - albeit briefly - often holds answers to next steps and actions required. 

However, the majority of population have now adopted a second nature use of ‘Smart’ technology, with mobile phones, tablets, lap-tops and even ‘Smart TV’s’ becoming more and more capable... so, how long before this technology comes together to offer a real alternative to GPs? Is there an acceptable way for those patients wishing to, to communicate quickly and more efficiently with their GP? Is telephone video consultation possible? Will it ever be possible to book an appointment to see your GP via our ‘Smart TV’?   

The technology exists already and I believe it’ll not be long before practices start to adopt alternative methods for GPs to see their patients and offer real choice of consultation capabilities by adopting technology readily available. 

RPM’s ethos is to look to the future, realise that which is technically possible, and provide a solution suitable to GPs and practice managers whilst reducing practice costs. Right now we are developing the next stage, as we see it, in Health POD and remote access technologies which could ensure technology being utilised for patient access and consultations within practices actually supersedes that which has evolved in the banking sector. 

If you feel you could benefit from a FREE, full communications health check then simply call RPM Solutions on 0333 6006 999 info@rpmsols.co.uk 

Jon Richardson,
Managing Director at RPM Solutions

 


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J Richardson 04/11/2015

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