How the telephone can help achieve the GP Forward View

As the GP Forward View urges practices to act as the bedrock for the transformation of NHS care, the pressure is on to do more with less. Providing GPs and patients with more efficient ways of communicating is vital if this ambition is to be realised, argues Paul Bensley of X-on

For many people, the telephone number of their GP surgery is the first point of call with the NHS. According to The King’s Fund, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, telephone contacts with general practice increased by 62.6%, compared to an increase of 13.3% in face-to-face consultations over the same period. The ‘phone is one of the most important communication tools for frontline primary care.

With more widespread use of telephone triage, and increasing numbers of mergers and federations, there are huge demands on GP ‘phone systems and on the practice and business managers who rely on them. Many clinical commissioning groups are using investment from NHS England’s Estates and Technology Transformation Fund to upgrade GP telephony to cope.

It’s important that projects make the most of this investment and, to help them do this, we have outlined some of our experiences from working with practices which have wanted to make the most of GP telephony.

Making the most of GP telephony

The clamour for appointments can overwhelm staff and this can be addressed through smart call handling. This should involve calls being answered promptly in dedicated call centres that support single or multiple sites.

Such smart phone systems should support services such as telephone triage which, when done well, can help reduce the pressure on a practice; they should also allow clinicians to manage the appointments that need to be made via their ‘phone.

Call recording is an important feature to support this but the patient information provided needs to be held securely in UK data centres which demonstrate compliance with stringent security procedures and protocols. Information should be readily accessible if other systems fail to ensure continuity of care.

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Telephone systems should integrate with the clinical record so that call recordings are accessible within a single click from the clinical system. This gives a better picture of the patient and reduces the time required to make detailed notes.

Additional features include the ability to support health prevention through services such as flu reminders; improved communications between GPs and hospital consultants mean that a doctor can access specialist knowledge quickly.

Using telephony to help achieve the GP Forward View

Enhanced GP telephony can support services, such as telephone triage, which help cope with demand. It can provide rapid access to secure patient data at any time and from any location and so support more efficient clinical workflow. Further, it can make appointment-setting easier, helping to reduce DNAs and other missed appointments by confirming attendance and sending reminders.

Done properly, the use of smarter telephone systems can allow practice and business managers to better match capacity to demand, enriching the experience for both clinicians and patients and acting as the foundation to achieve the ambitions of the GP Forward View.

However, in order to realise this potential, it is important to pick a system that delivers as many benefits as possible. Choose wisely to ensure the best possible return on your investment.

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