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How GP practices can optimise the technology behind remote consultations

Telephone consultations now play a crucial role in general practice and new cloud-based telephony technology offers practices many additional benefits for patients and clinicians.

The last 18 months has seen GP surgeries face some profound challenges as doctors and their teams adapted to the restrictions placed on them and their patients by the pandemic. As face-to-face contact reduced, phone-based consultations became a critical way of keeping communication channels open - a fundamental change of approach that arrived virtually overnight.

Looking at some real-world data underlines the dramatic growth in phone-based GP-patient communication. Back in February last year, just before the COVID-19 lockdown came into force, one very typical London surgery recorded 3,300 inbound calls, taking 95 hours in total. In the same month, the surgery made 1,200 outbound calls totalling 27 hours.

Fast forward to October this year, their inbound calls had escalated to 5,560, taking 271 hours – a significant rise in volume that had almost tripled in overall duration. The biggest shift, however, was in the volume and length of outbound calls, where the same surgery made nearly 2,540 calls, totalling 94 hours in duration.

Calls to a London GP surgery

With total outbound call time increasing by over 300%, the growth of remote contact and consultations in surgeries like this and many hundreds of others underlines the shift in service provision and the huge importance surgeries now attach to their phone systems.

Remote consultations will remain important

Over eighteen months on from the onset of the pandemic, GPs and the government remain some distance apart on developing a workable method for increasing in-person appointment. As a result, the phone remains critical to the provision of GP services.

Indeed, many doctors and patients alike have discovered that telemedicine is an effective alternative – for certain conditions and situations – to visiting the surgery in person.

This represents a major acceleration in an option that’s been available to GPs and their patients for several decades. First offered in the UK back in the early 1990s, phone-based consultations were originally rolled out to provide people in more remote locations with better access to vital advice and care.

Its growth has been accompanied by significant advances in the technology infrastructure and services available to GPs. Not only has this helped improve the quality and effectiveness of remote consultations, but has enabled surgeries to be more agile in the way they deliver their services.

Cloud-based convenience

In particular, the versatility of cloud-based telephony – where the technology is hosted and delivered as a service by a specialist third-party – has provided a range of benefits. For instance, cloud telephony users can work remotely or in the surgery using exactly the same app on their mobile device or laptop to make and receive calls.

For many GPs, nurses and support staff, this has become key to their ability to safeguard their health and that of patients while continuing to work as normally as possible.

But, this isn’t just about convenience. The most effective modern telephony services also integrate with EMIS and other clinical systems, reducing the amount of admin time staff need to spend finding and updating patient records.

By giving surgeries the features they need to serve patients in a modern way, cloud telephony services also offer features such as unlimited call queuing, recording, easy-to-change auto-attendants and hold music.

With remote consultations likely to remain an important and permanent option for many GPs and patients, virtual consultations and triaging have reached a tipping point during the COVID-19 crisis. As set out in a report by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions: 'There is a realisation...that digital transformation is crucial to bridge the gap between the demand for healthcare and the supply of staff and resources available'

In a future where telemedicine will play a central role in the delivery of healthcare, telephone technology must fully support GPs and their wider teams to ensure an effective, all-round service.

In addition, surgeries, federations and PCNs must look closely at their use of phone systems. For many, the adoption of cloud telephony will become more common as surgeries look to balance a return to in-person consultations with the undoubted benefits that telemedicine can offer.

VTSL

VTSL is a leading cloud communications provider specialising in delivering unified communications to the UK & Ireland. We are a G-Cloud provider and offer government-approved individually tailored cloud communications solutions designed to improve patient's access to GP and healthcare services. Our future-proof solution is scalable and easy to use with 24/7 support, and in-person training included. Learn more by visiting our website or by emailing info@vtsl.net

This article was funded by VTSL for GP Connect

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