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Telephone back up

The Suffolk coroner, Peter Dean, is writing to the NHS Norfolk and Waveney primary care trust to emphasise the importance of having a telephone back-up system in place. The correspondence arose following an inquest over the death of a patient whose family had difficulty contacting their local GP due to a telephone line failure.

Whilst the lack of phone contact was not deemed to have contributed to the patient’s death, the coroner did highlight the importance of proper plans being in place to cover telephone outages.  In this particular instance apparently the phone lines were out of action for over 24 hours with calls being diverted to a single mobile.

The coroner’s observations on the importance of telephone answering could equally be applied to any health practitioner.  Calls to make appointments, to query symptoms or to ask for advice are all vitally important to current and prospective patients and if they are unanswered then either the patient’s problem can escalate or they may simply go elsewhere.  For example patients may choose to visit A&E if the GP is unavailable or may go to another chiropractor if their first choice doesn’t answer the phone.

So the problem of maintaining an open telephone line is not just confined to times when phone systems develop a fault.  But for many health practitioners this poses a dilemma with the choice being between interrupting a patient consultation and not answering the phone call.  The answer is to use the services of a virtual receptionist.

Virtual receptionist services can answer calls, make appointments and even screen unwanted sales calls.  Available on a full time or as needed basis the virtual receptionist service means that calls need never go unanswered again.  With added extras such as diary management, appointment reminders and patient records management the virtual receptionist helps to maximise patient treatment time without compromising service standards.

Because virtual receptionists work via the internet, even if the health practitioner’s own telephone line goes down the receptionist can take over, receiving calls and making appointments which the practitioner can view on line.

Following the phone failure incident last year the health centre concerned has upgraded its phone services with a view to avoiding repeat problems.  But the story is a lesson for all those who provide health services on the importance of ensuring a back-up plan is in place before it is too late.

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