A telephony system, also known as effective phone call management, is the first point of contact for the majority of patients wishing to access general practice.
If your practice has a VoIP telephony system, you can ask your telephone company to provide reports on the number of incoming calls, answered calls, dropped calls and voicemail messages, peak call times and length of calls. Analysis of this data can help you understand whether there is unmet demand so that you can improve the efficiency of your telephony system and increase access to your practice services for patients.
What are the benefits?
- Improved patient access to the clinic via phone call thus reducing number of walk-ins.
- Ability to identify peak times leading to improved allocation of practice staff.
- Reduced number of abandoned calls.
- Better patient service and satisfaction.
Who does what?
- Contact telephony provider to request call data
- Establish process for regular review of telephone data
- Review telephone data
- Allocate team members to cover peak call volume periods
- Ensure that team members have the necessary equipment and space to handle calls
- Consider patient survey for pre and post call-monitoring impact
- Agree and support the need to review call volume data per day
- Offer guidance with telephone company data request
- Support with analysing telephone data
How will it affect staffing?
Once you identify peak call times, allocate a telephonist to a hot desk away from the front desk during this period. There the telephonist can take phone calls without the distraction of the other duties at reception. You might also need to change the hours of receptionists to have more cover during busy times.
How will the data be provided?
The telephony provider should be able to provide you with a report on request. The report should contain the following data:
- caller ID
- date and time call received
- call answered by whom (including voicemail)
- calls transferred to whom
- call abandoned/unanswered.
The frequency of reporting will depend on the VOIP system you have, as there may be a cost associated with receiving reports. Your PHO advisor can assist with this information and may be able to provide some extra analytical support.
Will we need additional resources?
This change package assumes your practice uses a VoIP telephony system. You will also need a quiet hot-desking room for a telephonist to answer calls during peak times. Understanding your peak call times and dropped call numbers will help you identify whether resources are sufficient to meet the demand of your patients.
How can we engage with our patients and address any concerns?
Keep patients updated about any changes you implement that will modify the way they usually interact with your practice. Initially some patients may be concerned. For this reason, it’s important that they are kept informed and have a clear understanding of how to contact your practice and, if they leave a voicemail message, how long it will take for them to receive a reply.
You can also invite patients to complete a patient satisfaction survey to understand the impact of the changes. You may consider a patient survey to understand and track the patient experience pre and post call-tracking implementation.
Streamlining telecommunication access for patients to your practice Counties Manukau Health
Improving access with a better telephony system
Otara Family and Christian Health Centre (OFCHC) has improved its efficiency and increased access for patients by implementing a telephony system to understand unmet demand.
Patients were struggling to access the clinic by telephone to make appointments, particularly during busy periods. This gave a poor impression at an important touchpoint in the patient’s experience and increased the number of people attending OFCHC’s walk-in service, which created a bottleneck at reception and reduced the time doctors had for planned appointments.
Business manager Roshan Fernando realised the practice needed data to understand the problem before they could introduce improvements to solve it.
We engaged with our telephony provider to get data on how many incoming calls, answered calls, dropped calls and voicemail messages we had, as well as when our peak call times were and how long calls lasted,” Mr Fernando says.
When experts from OFCHC’s health network, ProCare, analysed the data, there were some surprises.
“We thought we were answering about 90 per cent of our calls, but actually it was only 67 per cent. We also thought calls were lasting for several minutes, when in fact the average was 47 seconds, so we were handling the calls we did answer quite efficiently.”
In addition, the data showed OFCHC that their peak call times were 8–10am and 3–5pm, and analysis of their call flows showed that calls coming in on the reception main line were handled more efficiently than those that went to the voicemail boxes of other staff.
“When we looked at our call flows we realised we had too many touchpoints. Patients could call nurses and GPs directly, which seemed like a good idea, but it assumed those staff had the time to take calls, and they didn’t.”
Having data to reinforce and understand the feedback from patients who said they couldn’t get through enabled OFCHC to tackle the problem with informed changes to their resource allocation and telephony processes.
“We allocated a telephonist to sit away from the front desk during peak call times to take phone calls without the distraction of all the other duties at the reception desk. We also changed the hours of some of our receptionists so we had more cover during busy times. That’s helped us to deal with demand during peak times.”
To make the response to voicemail messages quicker and use staff time more efficiently, OFCHC centralised and simplified their telephone system. Extra voicemail boxes managed by clinical staff were removed, leaving a single generic voicemail box managed by the receptionists, who notified relevant staff of voicemail messages by instant messaging, email notification or adding a call-back request into a GP or nurse’s template.
An expectation for staff to respond to voicemail messages within four hours was set, and a voicemail monitoring system was added to Mr Fernando’s Outlook programme so he could check that responses were timely.
As a result of the improvements, the answered call rate has risen from 67 per cent to 87 per cent, and the unanswered call rate has dropped from 27 per cent to 11 per cent.
“Patients are getting a better quality telephone service and more consistent access. And our reception staff are less stressed because they’re providing a good service with a system that works,” says Dr Harley Aish, GP.
Download case study (pdf) from Counties Manukau Health here.