Cutting physiotherapy waiting times

A study led by Bristol University professor Chris Salisbury has shown that using the telephone to make initial physiotherapy assessments can cut down not only on missed appointments but also on waiting times.  The trial compared the outcome for patients who were offered an initial telephone assessment against those who waited for a physiotherapist appointment.

The study concluded that some patients can be managed entirely by phone but that despite the faster access to treatment, overall satisfaction levels remained unchanged.  However, the Bristol University press release did stress that this evaluation was only one element of an overall requirement to examine treatment options for an increasingly elderly and immobile population.

Interestingly Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust has also released a report which shows that using a follow up telephone service can cut down the number of wasted and missed appointments within its urology service.   Whilst these are just two examples, they do illustrate the way in which the telephone is playing an increasingly important role in the health practitioner/ patient relationship.

However, the more that patients come to expect telephone communication, the more they will be dissatisfied when phone calls remain unanswered.  This poses a dilemma for the health practitioner.  On the one hand they are expected to be on hand for patient calls; on the other, they don’t want to interrupt consultations to answer the phone.

The answer is to delegate their phone answering and appointment booking service to a specialist virtual receptionist service.  With the receptionist handling calls, making appointments and sending out reminders the health practitioner can concentrate on treating their patients.  And if telephone consultations are on offer, these can be booked in the same way as any other face to face consultation.   After all, even telephone consultations need to be paid for and managing these in the same way as ordinary consultations via a booking system helps to ensure that invoices are raised and that no income is lost.

Another advantage of offering pre-appointment phone consultations is that the physiotherapist or other health practitioner can gauge the optimum treatment time, meaning that diaries can be more effectively filled, reducing wasted time between appointments.  Whether or not patients can be treated via the phone will depend very much on the nature of their problem but what is certain is using a virtual receptionist to answer the phone enables the practitioner to concentrate on treatment in all its forms and that can only be good for the patient and the health service provided.

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