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Reaching out

A study in the USA has revealed the benefits of automated telephone calls for patients with hypertension.  Taking a sample of 64,773 hypertension patients, half were sent a recorded phone message inviting them to have their blood pressure monitored at a clinic whilst the rest received no such invitation.

After four weeks it was found that 32.5% of those who had received a call had controlled their blood pressure against a base of 23.7% for those who had not received a call.  Although researchers did not collect data on measures taken by patients to control blood pressure it is believed the calls played an important part in raising patient awareness.

Certainly this study mirrors the findings of other surveys in the way in which patient care can be improved by a simple call.  Whether by encouraging patients to have a check up or replacing costly health visits with a simple call, the telephone is increasingly playing its part in enhancing health care.

One particularly successful way in which phone calls are being brought into the front line is in reminding patients about their appointments.  Whether issued via automated phone message or by text, a simple reminder can make a substantial contribution towards reducing the number of “no shows.”

This has two benefits.  Firstly it encourages patients to attend booked appointments and secondly it encourages them to notify the health practice should they be unable to attend for any reason.  With an early warning of a cancelled appointment the practice has the chance to book in another patient; thus benefitting the practice, the patient and boosting the overall level of patient care.

In our ever busier lives, it is inevitable that we will forget appointments from time to time and an automated phone or text message can be that vital memory jogger which we all need.  Health care practitioners from opticians to physiotherapists and even vets are using messaging for everything from a reminder to pick up some new medication or book a check up to reminders about appointments which have been made.  For example this writer received a text from their vet recently reminding them to pick up a fresh batch of worming medicine for a pet.

In summary, phone reminders can save “no shows, they can ensure patients receive the treatment which they need and they can help to keep health practitioners busy at all times.

Scoring Service Levels

Following a nationwide GP Patient Survey in 2011, users of the NHS Choices website are now able to compare the service provided by differing GP Practices.  Underlying data measures a range of factors to produce an overall GP Practice score out of 10.

The Department of Health has responded to BMA fears that the scores fail to take account of challenges faced by individual practices or areas by confirming that this will be considered when the data is published.  For patients, the main benefit of the data will be to enable them to compare GP performance within their immediate location and therefore choose a GP Practice which meets their needs.

For those interested in delving deeper into the statistics, the overall score out of ten is broken down into varying areas including the levels of service provided as well as clinical experiences.  This broad approach recognises the growing swell of opinion that good levels of health care start with the experience patients have when trying to contact the healthcare practice and make an appointment.  Indeed, Patients Association chief executive, Katherine Murphy, told the BBC that the Patients Association helpline “is seeing a trend of increasing complaints about GPs, covering a number of areas, including difficulties obtaining an appointment, complaints about behaviour of reception staff and other factors that affect their overall experience.”

Of course GP practices don’t have a monopoly on the need to constantly juggle clinical and administration time.  Other health professionals such as chiropractors and osteopaths also have to manage the twin demands of being easily contactable whilst maximising the time given to treatments.

One answer to this dilemma is the use of a virtual receptionist service.  With telephone answering and diary management outsourced to trained health receptionists; clinicians need not worry about receiving a low score for contactability or professional image.  Add in features such as appointment reminders, invoicing and managing patient records and health professionals can concentrate on providing the high level of service that their patients require.

The use of a virtual receptionist service also brings a revenue benefit.  With ease of contact comes a fuller diary and with appointment reminders comes a reduction in no-shows.  This helps to increase income at a cost which can be as little as the equivalent of one new client each month.  Whilst this latest NHS scoring initiative is confined to GP Practices, other health professionals can learn from the GP experience.  Using a virtual receptionist service may just be the step change needed to improve service levels alongside revenue and patient care.

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