Automated 24 hour phone appointment system is first in Scotland

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A doctors’ surgery in Scotland has become the first practice north of the border to install an automated phone appointment booking system which operates around the clock, enabling patients to book appointments at any time of the night or day. The fully automated system, known as Patient Partner, was installed at the Parkview Primary Care Centre in Carnoustie near Dundee in May this year as a way of improving patient access; a major target set by the previous Labour government and an ongoing priority for the NHS.

The new automated system was introduced as a way of ensuring that patients could get in touch to manage their appointments more easily. “By giving our patients more choice in when they can call us, we hope to make it as easy as possible for them to make appointments,” comments Parkview’s Business Manager Jean King. “All they have to do is call the practice at any time of the night or day, giving their date of birth and telephone number. This enables them to then make or change an appointment. It also allows patients to cancel any future appointments; a facility which we hope will reduce the number of missed appointments at the surgery.”

Patient Partner is able to detect spaces in the doctors’ diaries and allows the patient to choose the appointment time which best suits them by pressing a button on their touch tone phone. Using an automated system means that switchboard traffic is reduced, which in turn makes it easier for patients to get through to the surgery. The system is already proving popular with almost 600 patients using Patient Partner by its second month of operation (July). It is hoped that the uptake will increase further as patients become more familiar with the service.

Glasgow based company Digital IP is currently the only provider of Patient Partner in Scotland. The system was developed specifically for GPs’ surgeries by integrated telecoms specialist Voice Connect.

“Each missed appointment (DNA) costs GPs around £22 per appointment which equates to a cost of over £340,000 a week to the NHS,” comments Dougie MacMillan, SME Business Manager at Digital IP. “Technology such as Voice Connect’s automated phone service can help to cut DNAs and save money as well as improving choice and access for patients.”

First launched in 2004, Patient Partner has been installed at over 600 surgeries across England and Wales.