25 Mar 2021

How has telecoms evolved to answer changing demands in healthcare?

The last 12 months have made for a tumultuous year globally, with the pandemic impacting on every facet of life and emphasising within healthcare the importance of reliable telephony. As with every sector involved in supplying to healthcare, we have been required to quickly adapt our services and solve new problems which arose from big logistical changes faced by professionals.  

Working routines and systems within UK primary care have had to change overnight and we saw a “total triage” model for general practice rapidly emerging, with new technology and sophisticated cloud-based telephony systems enabling GPs to work in different environments. The mantra of “digital first” primary care, long aspired to within healthcare, become more of a reality for hundreds of GP practices, who could work from home, in hubs, call patients back, not be limited by line capacity, integrate with video and also measure the response.  

Adapting GP care

Key to our success during this time has been our cloud-based system, Surgery Connect. This system had previously been the backbone within GP practices through which all telephone communications would be handled. Very quickly, GPs required this same system to do its job just as effectively, but also be useable from home to support remote working. We rolled out [email protected], with the facility for supporting video consultations, and jumped our first hurdle in the healthcare telecoms space. 

No sooner had a new wave of GPs begun working from home, there then came another challenge: Covid vaccinations. Primary Care Networks (PCN) across the country were faced with the challenge of mass vaccination rollouts, and how they could effectively manage the patient communications around this without hindering day-to-day healthcare. In answer to this, we created a softphone version of Surgery Connect which has been implemented in vaccination hubs to manage the large flow of phone traffic being received.  

Through dedicated phone numbers which self-manage the purpose of the patient call, GP practices are able to allocate appropriate care and resource to speed up their processes. Similarly, automatic reminders by call or text keep patients up to date with their appointment. Where members of staff are required in some vaccination hubs to run through a manual questionnaire with each patient ahead of their vaccination, some GPs are also using our technology to run automatic questionnaires which collect information without a patient spending unnecessary time in the hub, effectively triaging the patient ahead of their arrival. Where we are seeing some of the greatest impact is through the ability to make the whole patient communication process more contactless. With maximum communication done digitally, there comes significantly less need for patients to spend any more than the minimum physically in the vaccination hub. 

Meeting the increase in demand 

Earlier this month we experienced the largest ever influx of calls made to GPs through our phone system - more than two million made by lunchtime. This statistic is a striking example of how much pressure GPs are under – and it isn’t levelling off. Increasing demand on GPs puts an emphasis on making processes more efficient, and many are achieving this through digital resource sharing across the PCN. This means that if a GP is at maximum capacity, the call can be pushed through to a GP elsewhere who is appropriate for dealing with the query. 

In healthcare the need for adaptable, innovative telecoms solutions is crucial, but we also appreciate there is still much to be done to ensure universal access for GPs, particularly when strong connectivity underpins much of the progress made. When done well, effective communication can support the delivery of quality care and build confidence among patients. We are helping GPs towards this scenario in which the whole system reaps the benefits.   

Paul Bensley is Managing Director of X-on — You can follow X-on on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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