Planning for the unexpected

We’d like to think that there is a pattern, a rhythm to life which enables us to make the most of our work and free time. When it comes to health services, boosted by efficient planning and the best use of technological systems, that rhythm should enable great patient outcomes whilst making the best use of staff time skills, and resources.

Even a simple system such as an online appointment booking service can help in this regard. Online booking can enable individuals to log on and make appointments at a time to suit them, even out of hours; whilst SMS text reminders help to improve patient attendance levels. All without taking too much administration time out of a health practice’s day.

However, life doesn’t always run as smoothly as we would like and events come along which can disrupt the working pattern. Some we can plan for. For example, the period around bonfire night is likely to see a greater call on health services which deal with the aftermath of bonfire party accidents. So much so that the NHS website reported a 27% increase in searches about burns and scalds over the bonfire weekend when compared to the average. That represents a search every twenty-one seconds.

Commenting on this increased call on resources Dame Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “We see a significant increase in visits to the burns page on the NHS website over the weekend of Bonfire Night and we’d encourage people to follow RoSPA’s advice on firework safety to stay out of harm’s way.”

Other health pressures can be more weather dependant. Here, some pressures can be predicted whilst others are more random. So the start of the annual skiing season is likely to lead to a rise in calls on physiotherapy and fracture clinic times. That largely follows an annual pattern. But other weather events such as storms, heatwaves, or the onset of icy weather are less predictable.

Meeting these challenges requires efficient planning systems to have an element of inbuilt flexibility. Weather forecasters may only be able to give us a few days’ notice of extreme events, leaving health practices having to respond rapidly to changing situations. As with any crisis management plan, communication is key. Being able to quickly advise patients, staff, and external contacts of the nature of the challenge and the steps being taken to meet it will help people to play their part. Here again SMS text messaging could help both in spreading the initial message and providing updates.

Another option could be to adopt the use of an external clinical call handling service such as that provided by Clinic Appointments. Being able to outsource call handling, message taking, dealing with simple queries, and appointment management can help to free up time which would better be used within the health practice. And whilst the service is available on a full-time basis, the option to use the service as and when needed provides health practices with the ability to outsource call handling in busy periods and then bring calls back in house at quieter times.