Paul Bensley, Managing Director at X-on, discusses how patient communications could be the only way to solve complex logistical considerations for mass vaccination
The introduction of vaccination hubs in the UK has brought with it a unique set of logistical challenges. We have seen first-hand the changing needs of Primary Care Networks (PCNs) over the last twelve months as new requirements, such as a contactless patient communication system, became essential almost overnight.
Now PCNs face a new challenge with the mass rollout of vaccinations and with it, the need for establishing effective patient communication to manage the process effectively. Cloud-based phone systems are where we have seen some PCNs utilising an infrastructure which helps them manage this, underlining once again the important element telephony represents in supporting communications with patients.
A softphone version of a cloud-based system
In Worcestershire, Warwickshire and areas of London, the use of a softphone version of a cloud-based system 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. The advantage of this is two-fold. Firstly, it reduces the risk of patients showing up at their vaccination hub at the wrong time by mistake and increasing the number of people mixing unnecessarily. And secondly, it helps shift the system towards a more paperless approach which immediately improves the speed and accuracy of message receipt.
Tech replacing manual questionnaires
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 technology to help eliminate this. Again, through a simple phone system, these GPs are running automatic questionnaires which collect the required information without a patient spending unnecessary time in the hub, effectively triaging the patient ahead of their arrival. The process also involves explanatory on-hold messaging to improve clarity for patients.
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.
Largest ever influx of GP calls
Earlier this month we experienced the largest ever influx of calls made to GPs through our phone system – more than one 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.
more than one million [calls] made by lunchtime.
Through the same systems which directs calls to the correct person within the GP practice, PCNs are also utilising the technology so that should a GP be at maximum capacity, the call can be pushed through to a GP elsewhere who is appropriate for dealing with the query. The ability to resource share across a PCN network is again where technology makes a difference for the GP, but also the patient.
This is particularly the case in many examples where patients face some anxiety around visiting a vaccination hub or receiving the COVID vaccination, and the ability to speak to a GP if they have health concerns helps significantly to lessen this.
Digitised patient communications becoming the norm?
Examples of digitised patient communications driven by the pandemic are becoming an increasing norm within the NHS. We have personally moved quickly to adapt or create services as the needs of GPs and PCNs change. GP@Home, for example, was created at the start of the pandemic to enable doctors to deliver the same level of phone and video care from their own homes, when required to work remotely, as they would from their surgery. These kinds of adaptations are shaping how healthcare is delivered through the pandemic and we expect they will form a longer-term change too.
For vaccination hubs, the use of cloud-based phone systems will likely be just the first in a number of developments delivered to improve patient communications.