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Healthy advice

Stories of sandbags and dredging may have captured the headlines but lurking beneath the disasters is a danger which if left unchecked could cause even more misery for thousands.  That danger is the health implications of excessive rainfall.

On a day to day basis we don’t pay much attention to our waste.  Yes, we wash our hands but in general we don’t stop to consider where our waste goes.  We just assume that it is dealt with.  But with flood waters pouring into drains and septic tanks, our waste is suddenly a lot closer than we’d like to believe and that can cause long term health problems for the unwary.

In recognition of this Public Health England (PHE) has issued some guidance on “the potential health impacts before, during and after a flood as well as advice and support on the response and recovery.”  In addition to warnings about the dangers of sharp objects hiding beneath flood waters and advice on packing an emergency bag in case of evacuation the PHE advice also covers areas such as sanitation and food safety.  The PHE advice also brings to the fore the psychological impacts of flooding which can cause symptoms such as tiredness, distress, anxiety and sleeping problems.

Whilst the NHS is generally the first port of call for those whose health and wellbeing has been affected by the floods, in the longer term other health professionals will be drawn in to the mix.  Those such as counsellors and psychotherapists may be required to treat psychological traumas whilst physiotherapists, osteopaths and others look after people who have been injured whilst coping with the floodwaters.  Even the simple advice to move precious objects upstairs is going to result in a fair amount of back and other strains for those who are unused to such exercise.

With so many affected, in some areas already overburdened health professionals are going to be put under further pressure.  Finding ways to defer some of the day to day tasks such as telephone answering, diary management and the maintenance of patient records could help to deflect some of this pressure as well as maximising the time available for treatments.  Whilst at least the flood waters bring with them warmer weather which reduces ice slips and strains this is cold comfort to those who require treatment from weather related ills.  With the Government warning that things may get worse before they get better this is one story which sadly may run and run.

Designing care pathways around patients’ needs

A report by The King’s Fund has recommended that local organisations be given the freedom to prioritise quality patient care under the supervision of NHS boards.  Entitled “Patient-centred leadership” the report acts as a follow-up to the Francis inquiry.

One of the central themes of the report relates to the need to move away from externally imposed targets and towards a culture which puts patient-care at the centre of the NHS.   Commenting on the report the NHS Confederation chief operating officer Matt Tee said: “It is very worrying that such a significant proportion of respondents to the King’s Fund survey think the NHS does not sufficiently prioritise quality of care.”

The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard Thompson, backed the report but highlighted the way in which technology can play its part in aiding, or hampering, a physician’s attempt to provide quality care.  A report on the national health executive website quotes Sir Richard as saying that “Clinicians desperately want to provide high quality care, but problems with systems and resources can often make it difficult for doctors and nurses to treat their patients well.”

Certainly the old days of scribbling a note on a piece of paper and putting it in a patient’s file are gone.  But whether the introduction of technology has improved and streamlined care processes is a matter of debate by many health practitioners.  As with any new technology, some systems prove a boon in terms of time saving whilst others are so complex that the practitioner sometimes feels they are spending every moment in satisfying the ever gaping maw of IT and processes.

But there are some technologies which can make a real difference to maximising patient care times.  For example, systems which record and store patient files electronically can generate huge time savings.  Gone are the hours of filing and the wasted time whilst you search for a note which has been misplaced.  Instead, a touch of a button and the entire patient file is there before you, with notes, MRI images and other documents available to view instantly. Not only does an automated patient record help to manage multi-practitioner cases, it can prove to be a boon in smaller practices such as those provided by osteopaths or physiotherapists.

Undoubtedly our health practitioners have the will to provide top quality patient care at all times.  With automated patient records freeing up valuable time, perhaps technology can lead the way in this transformation.

Guarding your back

In celebration of Chiropractic Awareness Week 2013 the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has been encouraging parents to take care of their backs.  According to the BCA, 79% of people have experienced back or neck pain at some point in their lives with 61% of those being parents.

More worrying for the parent/child relationship, 55% of parents reported that their back or neck pain prevented them from lifting or carrying their child.  To help parents to prevent or minimise the effects of back pain the BCA has published some handy advice sheets on their website.  The guides cover areas such as posture, stretching exercises, pregnancy, outdoor and indoor activities and play.

As you’d expect the BCA was not alone in promoting the Chiropractic Awareness Week which started on 15th April.  Chiropractors across the UK played their part in promoting the ways in which chiropractic treatments could help to treat or prevent back pain.  With NHS commissioning for chiropractic treatments being limited, the majority of chiropractic patients tend to pay privately.  This puts an added time pressure on chiropractors who not only have to provide the treatments but also manage their own administration as they care for multiple patients.

Making use of an efficient virtual service can take a lot of the pressure out of the administration burden and enable chiropractors to maximise their time with patients.  Services such as telephone answering and diary management help the practice to present a professional image whilst minimising the time spent on administration or having to interrupt treatments to answer the phone. But it is the additional services offered by businesses such as Clinic Appointments which can also make a major difference to time management.  SMS appointment reminders have been shown to boost patient attendance whilst digitising patient notes eliminates the time spent in searching through filing cabinets as the patient sits in the waiting room.

One of the BCA leaflets provides handy hints on protecting our backs when on the computer.  For busy chiropractors and other health professionals we’d like to add one more item to the list and that is to reduce the time spent sitting down on the phone or computer and let our virtual assistants take the strain.

Fit for the future?

The 2012 Hospital guide from Dr Foster makes very interesting reading.  The headline statistics about hospital occupancy rates alone paints a picture of an NHS which is full to bursting.  Against an ideal occupancy rate of 85%, the report shows that for 48 weeks a year most hospital trusts have a bed occupancy rate in excess of 90%.

This not only puts pressure on trust staff on a day to day basis, high occupancy levels mean that when a crisis hits there is little spare capacity to meet it.  So, the current Norovirus outbreak which according to the HPA is already 72% up on last year is bad news indeed.

Unfortunately for NHS managers the Dr Foster report highlights one major bed blocker that could easily be avoided.  Apparently 29% of beds are taken up by “patients whose admission might have been avoided if their care was better managed.”  This includes patients who are readmitted shortly after discharge, patients who would have been better treated in the community and patients who could have been seen as day cases.

The report does conclude that efficient hospitals can deliver good quality care but that areas such as missed hospital appointments, unnecessary admissions,  a lack of weekend care and keeping patients in too long (or conversely discharging them too soon) all need addressing.  The report also highlights the number of follow up appointments which could easily have been replaced by a quick phone call or visit to a GP.

When looking at outpatient appointments the report also says that “both primary and secondary care providers can take measures to improve the proportion of patients who attend hospital outpatient appointments.”  We have previously highlighted ways in which some providers are taking steps to address this issue, using simple methods such as sending appointment reminders by phone or text.

Patients failing to show up for appointments is an issue for everyone working in the healthcare field.  For health practitioners who charge their patients direct, a no-show not only prevents another patient from being treated, it also costs the practitioner in lost revenue.  That is one reason why an appointment reminder service can pay for itself in reducing no-shows and keeping treatment rates high.  Allied to a virtual receptionist service which can take calls, make appointments and even manage patient records, a health practitioner can concentrate on treating the maximum number of patients and providing good quality care.

The Draft Care and Support Bill

After months of speculation, leaks and pre-emptive comments, the draft Care and Support Bill has been published.  Accompanied by eight fact sheets, impact and equality assessments the Bill is no lightweight.  For those interested in reading the full text or who intend to post formal comments on individual clauses the link to the bill is shown at the end of this article.

In releasing the Bill the Government’s stated aim is to consolidate a number of different laws into a single statute and to transform social care “from a service that reacts to crises to one that focuses on prevention and is built around the needs and goals of people”

One of the central planks of the Bill is the idea that people will control over how their individual needs are to be met.  This includes both a drive towards remaining in the family home for as long as possible and a personal budget to enable individuals to optimise their own care.   This will enable individuals to create a care package which is far more wide reaching than a simple need to be bathed or dressed.  In Factsheet 4 one example given is that part of the budget could be spent on gym membership which provides the exercise needed to aid recovery.

With personal care based on individual needs the way is open for health practitioners to make a real difference to people’s lives.  Whether by providing osteopathy or chiropody services, massage or exercise regimes or even helping with personal appearance; life could become far more fulfilling for those helping to provide personal care services.

This means that it is more important than ever to take steps to maximise patient care times and minimise “office” time.  One vital step in this direction could be the use of a virtual receptionist service.  With calls, diary appointments and even patient records taken care of the health practitioner can concentrate on making the most of helping their clients and growing their business.

By the time the draft Care and Support Bill has would its way through the Parliamentary process it may well be a very different animal from the one we see today.  But, whatever the result, maximising patient care time is one step that we can all take with or without the Bill.

Prioritising Patient Records

On 21 May the Department of Health published its information strategy setting out a ten year plan for improving information management across health and social care.  Key targets include providing people with access to their own records online by 2015, promoting online appointment booking and the ability to share test results on line.

The information strategy, subtitled “The power of information” has a two fold aim.  Firstly it seeks to improve the patient-professional partnership by providing patients with access to their records and thereby improve informed choice decisions.  Secondly the strategy recognises that a system which efficiently collates patient records will save time and money as well as improving care.

The proposals have received broadly positive responses.  Although the BMA has raised a concern over security of records, particularly across shared systems, it has also gone on record to say that it supports “the sharing of relevant information between healthcare professionals.”  The Chief Executive of the NHS commissioning board, Sir David Nicholson, commented that the adoption of an information strategy is the first step “in a genuine cultural shift in the NHS that will enable the service to work at its most efficient and give patients real power and choice.”

Certainly the more work which can be done on computerising patient records the better.  Health professionals work in a time pressured environment and time spent looking for records is time which is not spent on patient treatment.    This is one of the reasons why Clinic Appointments instituted its Patient Records service.  This enables health care professionals to upload and view clinical notes, x-ray and scan records as well as client invoices.  The software is simple to use and the secure records can be accessed at any time 24/7.

Keeping patient records in one place means the end of searching for missing records; it means that patient histories can be viewed at a glance and eventually it will mean that information can be shared with others under the information strategy.  Linking the patient records service with diary management and virtual receptionist services frees up clinicians to do what they do best.   So, no more filing, no more searching and no more phone answering, just client treatments.

The Department of Health and the NHS Commissioning Board have until April 2013 to finalise the information standards and route map.  In the meantime the Clinic Appointments Patient Records Service is there for health professionals who are looking to cut down on administration time now.

Helping the nation to work

Speaking  in April 2012, Legal & General director John Pollock said that the Government could save £billions if they adopted a coherent long term sickness absence policy.  Mr Pollock believes that the current sick pay system “doesn’t deliver the right mixture of support for employer or employee and is not delivering value for the taxpayer in the long term.”

In part the comments reflect the conclusion of an earlier report from November 2011 which stated that early health intervention helped to reduce sickness absence with specialist expertise playing an important role in promoting a swift return to work.  This in turn helps both the country’s budget and the individual’s wellbeing.

Of course, any report about sickness absence is likely to be the catalyst for some debate.  On the one hand the Government is actively seeking to move claimants from long term sickness benefits and back in to work.  On the other comes a report from Opinium which said that 12% of those taking sick leave in the first two months of 2012 were not ill enough to justify taking the time off.   In the middle we have the health and safety debate centring on whether those with illnesses such as colds and mild flu should go into work and risk passing their illness on or stay at home to protect their workmates.

Key to the debate is the degree to which early intervention is possible.  Certainly when it comes to muscle and skeletal problems, in general the earlier the intervention the swifter the cure.  OK there is the prevention is better than cure argument and that has led in general in recent years to workplaces adopting more stringent health and safety procedures. But no matter how careful someone is, there are going to be times when our muscles or ligaments give up on us.  And when that happens, it’s can never be too soon to start on an appropriate course of treatment. Those visiting  physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths  may well be unable to work in the short term and the longer the injury goes untreated the more likely secondary problems may develop.

This requirement for speedy treatment places a logistical challenge on health professionals.  On the one hand they need to maintain a regular treatment schedule for existing patients whilst on the other hand time needs to be made available in order to start new treatments on those whose injuries have just occurred. The challenge for health professionals is therefore to maximise treatment times whilst making it easy for patients to contact and make appointments.

This is where a virtual receptionist service comes into its own.  Professionally trained receptionists can take calls, book appointments and answer simple patient queries leaving the health professional free to provide treatment. With appointment reminders sent to reduce “no shows” the use of a virtual receptionist service can help to ensure that the maximum number of patients are treated in the time available.  This helps to ensure early intervention and therefore speeds up the return to work.  Whilst we can’t do much about those taking a “sickie”, a virtual receptionist service can make the difference both for those who need to see a healthcare professional quickly and for the professionals themselves who wish to maximise their working time.

Outsourcing Public Services

A recent article in the Financial Times suggested that the Government ” is proceeding at breakneck speed with plans to outsource public services.” The Welfare Reform Bill as well as the Health and Social Care Bill have opened up opportunities across the health and welfare sectors for healthcare professionals.

Whilst the Financial Times gave examples of sizeable contracts encompassing areas such as IT and work-capability assessments; there are plenty of other areas in which health care professionals can benefit from outsourcing. These include providing healthcare services such as osteopathy and physiotherapy or running wellness clinics in tandem with local GP practices.

On the other side of the coin, healthcare practices can benefit from outsourcing some of their own workload. Areas such as human resources and internet technology can take up considerable time which would be better spent in providing patient care. Telephone answering and diary management services can also be outsourced.

At Clinic Appointments, our telephone answering team are experienced in healthcare matters, enabling them to handle calls with a degree of knowledge and sympathy. Calls are answered in the business name meaning that callers are unaware that the call handling has been outsourced. Our receptionists can forward messages, answer queries and book appointments.

Moving one step on from outsourcing telephone calls the Clinic Appointments team can also manage diaries including sending reminders to clients and invoicing. This frees up time allowing healthcare and beauty practitioners to concentrate on what they do best; providing a great personal service to clients. Finally, our secure patient record software allows records to be stored digitally, helping with filing and doing away with those hours wasted searching for paper notes.

Those who enjoy the constant shuffling between patients and telephone calls, the endless filing and searching for paperwork and never quite being in control probably won’t appreciate the Clinic Appointments service. However healthcare professionals who prefer to focus their attention on patient care might find our service to their liking.

In its move towards outsourcing the Government has concluded that outsourcing allows efficiencies of expertise together with greater flexibility and cost savings. This move is in fact being reflected throughout business with outsourcing increasingly being seen as a cost effective and beneficial exercise.

The Health and Social Care Bill in particular will result in the NHS making strides towards outsourcing, thanks to the devolution of budgets to GP practices. Healthcare professionals who are poised to make the most of outsourcing could see a world of opportunity opening before them.

The Health and Social Care Bill

On 27 March 2012 the Health and Social Care Bill finally gained Royal Assent. After more than a year of being shuttled between the House of Commons and The Lords and having survived more than 1,000 amendments the Bill will usher in some far reaching changes to the way in which the NHS operates. Chief among the changes are:
• Devolving power and a large slice of the NHS budget to doctors and front line nurses
• Reducing bureaucracy with two layers of management being cut entirely
• A renewed focus on integration and quality outcomes
• A shift in power away from Whitehall with local authorities being made responsible for public health alongside local authority representation on health boards

All of these changes open up opportunities for healthcare professionals such as osteopaths,
chiropractors and physiotherapists to work more closely with their local GP practices in providing optimum healthcare for patients. These opportunities do however come at a price. Local managers are going to be looking for tight cost control and efficiencies and businesses which can step up to the mark are more likely to be the winners when it comes to attracting business.

One key way in which health practitioners can make an instant impression is in the way in which they operate their telephone answering and appointment booking systems. Put simply, fund holders looking to keep control on costs are less likely to appoint practitioners who require multiple telephone calls before appointments are made.

This is where the Clinic Appointments service comes into its own. Staffed by healthcare trained receptionists, the Clinic Appointments service not only answers calls but can also manage diaries, invoice clients and even organise clinical notes. This means that whether you are a UK healthcare clinic, osteopath, chiropractor, physiotherapist, or even offer massage, beauty, medical and other health services you can concentrate on providing a great service to clients while we take care of the booking and paperwork.

All this means that you can more easily provide quality assurances to your local GP practice which will in turn have the added comfort of knowing that they can make appointments at any time, whether or not you are with patients when they call. And for health practitioners our diary/appointment reminder service means a reduction in missed appointments, ensuring you are operating nearer to capacity.

Commentators have said that in a way the passing of the Health and Social Care Bill was the easy part and that the hard work starts here. Making sure that calls are answered is a great first step.

The Budget Raid on the NHS Surplus

Hidden within the small print of the 2012 Budget announcement was the news that the Government had decided to claw back part of the £900m which was underspent by the NHS in 2011/12.    Although £400m has been rolled over into the 2012/3 NHS budget, the remaining £500m is to be returned to the Treasury.

According to the BBC, the Department of Health put the total underspend down to greater than expected efficiency savings in capital projects, including an IT scheme, rather than from to day to day budget management.  Whilst the clawback has prompted some to accuse the Government of conducting a raid on the NHS, the news that a government department has managed to realise IT savings is welcome.

Although the pace of internet technology development has been rapid, it is true to say that in general we have not always embraced the possibilities as swiftly as we might.  However, it is also true to say that making the most of IT can bring us not only cost savings but time savings as well.

Let’s look at one simple area, that of diary management.  Those working within the health sector understand and appreciate the value of time.  Whether a physiotherapist or an osteopath or in fact a provider of health or beauty treatments of any kind, time spent on managing diaries is time away from patient or client treatment.

This is where a virtual receptionist service can really make a difference.  Thanks to the development of technology, virtual receptionists can answer telephone calls as though they were from the health practice itself.  They can make appointments, screen unwanted sales calls and take messages; all of which means that health professionals can concentrate on what they do best, treating their clients.

More importantly, a virtual diary system can be accessed at all times from any internet PC by multiple users, meaning that health professionals can schedule follow up appointments whilst leaving telephone calls to the virtual assistants.  With added services such as appointment reminders, invoicing and management of patient records using a virtual receptionist opens up opportunities for cost and time savings as well as greater file management efficiencies.

After years of news about government IT overspends the news that the NHS has managed to make technology efficiency savings is a step in the right direction.  Making the most of IT and telephone technology via a virtual receptionist service is one way in which health professionals can all benefit from the technology revolution.

Contact us today to discover how Clinic Appointments can help your clinic. Book your free demo call now to learn more.