Patient Participation Group (PPG) – Phone Appointments

 Problems Making Phone Appointments at the Doctors’ SurgeryPatient Participation Group - Phone Appointments

Doctors’ Phone Service – Guy’s B�te Noire

I say again, doctors are the only profession that exceed my expectation.  At the other extreme, phone systems consistently disappoint me.  This is because I can remember the halcyon days when if you phoned the doctor’s surgery, or a hospital, you got through to a real live telephonist.  It’s interesting that that really important services, such as the 999 emergency, still employ a real telephonist.  All other services bamboozle me with their recorded messages, befuddle me with options, and then more often than not, cut me off once I make my selection.

Until a doctors’ surgery provides a real live telephonist I will never believe that they truly put their patients ahead of procedures and performance targets.  I am not sure if it makes matters better or worse that all surgeries are equally cowardly, in that they all hide under the excuse that everyone else provides only a recorded options menu service.

To step back, and take a reality check: there are 2,000,000 + people unemployed in Great Britain, would it not better everyone if 5,000 of them were employed as surgery telephonists, rather than drawing unemployment benefit?

Update 1: I hear that my surgery now has 5 receptionists on duty for the morning rush-hour.  It was probably coincidence that two weeks previously I wrote a letter of complaint / constructive criticism concerning the telephone appointment system.  On the other hand, patient feedback may be factor in changing surgery procedures.

Update 2: There are now 7 options when you phone our surgery.  My pleas are that a) they don’t change that, number 1 always = emergency, 2 = today’s appointments, etc.  b) Pie in the sky maybe, but don’t all surgeries use the same numbers for the same service.  I am not a great fan of central government interference, but just when standardisation would be a good idea, its nowhere to be found.

Doctors’ Phone Service – Plan B

It seems that at least for the short-term we have to accept a recorded message service.  Taking a shot at a surgery’s phone service is an easy target.  Thus a better question is, ‘What can we do to make the phone appointments system better’?

  • Research, and put into practice, every little improvement that individual receptionists have uncovered.
  • Ask patients what they would like.
  • Test alternatives.  Why do we have to have out-of-date or inappropriate messages?
  • Experiment with soothing useful messages.  ‘If you are phoning to make an appointment for someone else, it will help our receptionist if you have their correct spelling of their first name and last name’.
  • I am sure that patients have a rich seam of suggestions on how to make an automated system better.  (Why do they have to start at 8:30?  What would happen if the lines were opened at 7:30?)
  • Consistency with  phone options. For example press 1 is always for emergencies, 2 for today’s appointments etc.
  • As this phone service is a topic I have though a great deal about, I would welcome comments and especially suggestions from other patient participation groups.
  • Repeat prescription push the message, use internet form.   Maybe mention it in the message, maybe mention on the repeat form.  On the notice-board.  Make internet slicker.
  • Would it be better to install a separate dedicated phone line for prescriptions and test results, I am not sure, what do you think?


Facility to Text Cancellations.


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