Boosting patient access and improving the patient experience

Patient-centred care – it’s the future of the NHS. Delivering it can be a challenge; improving patient access, and thus experience, is key. Three CCGs have adopted advanced GP telephony to deliver on the region’s Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) vision for integrated care and to help GP surgeries improve patient access and experience. Practice Business explores                                                             

How do you provide patients with easier access to healthcare, staff with the ability to work more efficiently and remotely, and doctors with a cost-effective platform to reduce did-not-attends (DNA) as well as delivering new forms of consultation? One group of three CCGs are exploring telephony as a potential solution.

South Worcestershire, Redditch and Bromsgrove and Wyre Forest CCGs are rolling out advanced, cloud-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone services – called Surgery Connect – across the region’s GP surgeries to achieve NHS plans for more efficient and effective care – replacing the outdated systems that some practices rely on.

The new technology is set to improve patient access and experience by making it easier for patients to get through to a GP and allowing them to manage their own appointments – reducing DNAs, which are said to cost the NHS around £1bn every year. Practices will also be able to provide extended hours access, match capacity to demand and deliver new forms of consultation – all priorities outlined in NHS England’s GP Forward View.

Implementing digital innovation, improving patient care

The innovation helps achieve the region’s digital plans, as described in its Local Digital Roadmap (LDR), as well as the vision for more efficient, effective, integrated health and care outlined in its STP plans.

“Joined up telephony was one of the priorities for our LDR,” James Harley, primary care IT lead for the CCGs, explains. The roadmap recognised that, in order to achieve the region’s vision of more effective care, improvements to telephony were crucial – especially as almost nine out of 10 patients use the telephone system as their first point of contact with the health service, according to the latest GP Patient Survey.

“We saw that lots of GP practices were paying too much for their ‘phone systems, which were often antiquated and didn’t have the functionality required to support new ways of working,” James, says, adding that part of the appeal was that the system had been designed with GP input – built to meet the needs of practices.

Patients can manage their own appointments over the ‘phone and – as the system is cloud-hosted – has the potential to enable patients to contact any one of several surgeries on evenings and weekends to arrange appointments and speak to a GP – a key enabler for an extended access service.

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Mobilising healthcare – apps and ‘phone consultations

The system supports remote and mobile working; GPs and other healthcare staff can be in contact with patients via a mobile app and GPs can carry out consultations over the ‘phone and will be able to do the same via video – plus, performance dashboards identify call volumes, helping practices and commissioners manage demand on the region’s healthcare services.

For patients the experience is greatly improved; calls can be answered in order, reducing frustration and complaints; less time is wasted on patient calls, as practice staff see a patient’s record when they call through on the ‘phone, and calls can be recorded and associated with the patient record to help GPs better understand a patient’s needs.

Technology – saving the day and saving on costs

Business continuity is also improved, James tells us, “If someone drills through the internet connection at a practice, we can quickly switch the ‘phone system over to mobile devices so there is no loss of service for patients or staff.” Downtime is reduced providing a more reliable service.

For the CCGs and general practices there are also financial benefits as the new telephony system will reduce infrastructure costs by removing the need for multiple contracts with providers and will cut the cost of calls by using VOIP.

The CCGs have used Estates and Technology Transformation Funding (ETTF) to support the rollout of these new services, which is being led by the Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit. Initial implementation will be across 16 practices in the region, expanding to a total of 64 practices and 13 branch sites as old ‘phone contracts run their course and contracts expire.

For the CCGs, general practice is just the beginning – once the infrastructure is in place the plan is to extend use of the ‘phone system to other care settings, such as community providers; as the technology is cloud-based, scale is not an issue. “It gives us a great opportunity for more joined-up working,” James observes.

With more efficient and effective communication infrastructure, these CCGs are showing that telephony can be a key vehicle for national and regional plans for sustainable, digitally-enabled healthcare transformation.

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