Cloud communications specialists X-on got the HTN Digital Primary Care conference underway last week by delivering our opening industry session. The company’s talk focused on how cloud telephony can support primary care providers with managing call demand, as well as remote consultations and other services.
We were joined for this keynote by X-on’s Managing Director, Paul Bensley and Product Manager, Steven Braithwaite. The duo discussed the X-on solution Surgery Connect and how digital can enhance care.
“Telephony is a major part of what Surgery Connect is about,” explained Paul in his opening segment, “but we think it’s about a lot more than that. It’s about communications, patient access, real-time communication – both from patients to practice and practice to patients.”
Having focused on primary care for the last seven or eight years, and also extending into community care, the company can offer plenty of experience in telephony healthcare. Paul said: “Surgery Connect is a cloud-based solution, so it sits at our data centres and most of our customers interact with us via telephones on their desk or via applications or browsers on their desktop. We don’t put things on-site – that’s the old way – we provide a service across multiple practices.”
Working across around 1,000 UK GP practices, the company has a large presence in primary care. To highlight a ‘snapshot’ of the situation from 2019 to 2021 – and the increasing demand – across the past few years, Paul shared data from selected months, collated at some of the practices X-on works with. The graph illustrated a “steady increase in the number of calls coming in” and “the challenge in answering those calls” with more unique and repeat callers going unanswered.
On how X-on can help surgeries avoid placing patients in call queues, Paul said: “We’re working with partners – we’re not a standalone telephony versus the rest; we’re part of an eco-system to provide better patient access and better patient communication with GPs.”
Citing NHS England stats from 2019 on how people booked appointments – with around 77.8 per cent doing so by phone, compared to 42.1 per cent making appointments in person – Paul pointed out that the numbers have changed significantly, with an increase to 86.3 per cent of people booking GP appointments with their practice via the phone and just 8.4 per cent doing so in person.
“There’s a slight increase in online [booking],” he added, “but perhaps not quite as much as everybody would like. That’s a work in progress, clearly. But phone is still one of the main ways a patient will engage when they want an appointment…it’s still very important.”
“We’re seeing a rapid increase in outgoing calls from the practice,” Paul continued. “The tools to make sure that’s done efficiently are very important. And [also] the way that they integrate with the clinical system.
“One of the other important factors though is, as practices begin to draw together…they share resources, we can see that now beginning to happen within PCNs…and of course the information is terribly important, the stats…we’re seeing increasingly that some practices do better than others by [using] particular tools in order manage patient demand.”
As well as telephony, however, the tools that are part of the Surgery Connect solution also include video, SMS and the ability to change to a video call when mid-phone call.
“They are also important parts of the communication path but a lot of what we talk about is phone because of that 86 per cent,” he said.
After the overview, Paul handed over to Steven, who went on to share some practical, real-world examples of “things that happen in the field”.
Steven began by commenting on how legacy systems can make the way practices work inefficient, touching specifically on the challenges related to outbound calls, which include competing with inbound patient traffic, struggling to get an outbound line, and people resorting to making calls on a personal mobile.
“It’s really surprising how many customers come to us, describing that their phone system just doesn’t allow them to make any outbound calls because of the increased demand that’s coming in…they have to set aside a time when they know the inbound side is quieter,” he stated.
“So Surgery Connect, being a cloud-based system, isn’t encumbered by any of those capacity issues. Everybody in the practice can make a call when they need to – they’re not fighting for those lines.”
Explaining some of the benefits of Surgery Connect, he highlighted a ‘Queue Busting system’ which includes an automated callback that enables patients to save their place in the queue virtually.
Sharing the stats on this feature, Steven showed that in March 2021, across 363 GP surgeries, 689,000 patients were offered the Queue Busting option and 328,000 took the option – equating roughly to around 48 per cent. This option, he added, saved 141,600 queuing hours per month and an average of 26 minutes of queue time per call.
After explaining how the system can also help with flexible or remote working and room or location changes, Steven spoke about integration: “We integrate with EMIS and SystmOne – when the patients call the practice number, our system searches the clinical system for their telephone number,” he said. “The caller makes their way down the queue and when they get through to a receptionist, the receptionist receives a pop-up on their screen identifying who we think the patient is based on the calling number…it just negates that manual searching and speeds things up.”
To assist with remote working, Steven added, every user would also have a ‘softphone’ on their PC, to limit the number of people having to use their personal mobiles when working at home and allow people to connect to the system and their colleagues without being in the practice. “It really does extend the phone system outside of the practice”, he said, noting that the capabilities also included video and a display of the practice number when calling patients.
Finally, he explained that these features are all included, rather than bolt-ons and that the system can also be used to manage call flows and inform patients of important general updates and seasonal announcements – ultimately to prevent receptionists from repeating information many times.
After demo-ing how patients can update their messaging by using X-flow, Steven passed the baton back to Paul, who added that – typically – X-on processes around two million calls before lunchtime on Mondays. He then went on to also provide a short demo on the process of contacting patients for telephone triage and the different ways of communicating, as well as how this can be added to a patient record.
The discussion then moved on to a Q&A session with the audience, which you can watch via the video link below, as well as the session in its entirety.