GP surgeries urged to give patients more information about contact options

More consultation and communication is needed with patients about how to contact two GP surgeries, according to a new report.

The Reepham and Aylsham Medical Practice asked Healthwatch Norfolk to look into its automated telephone system called Patient Partner.

It wanted to understand why people were not using it and then use that information to understand and improve patient communication.

Healthwatch Norfolk carried out a survey which could be completed in person at either surgery, online or by phone, and also talked to staff to find out if more could be done to raise awareness of the system.

Key findings

over 360 people responded with over half of patients surveyed saying they had used the system, most commonly to book a same-day appointment.

They felt awareness of it could be improved with many saying they only found about it when they contacted the practice, and around a third saying they did not understand why it was used.

Some people were also concerned the Patient Partner system would end up replacing receptionists.

Many of those who did use it said they were not happy with it, with 60 per cent rating their overall experience as bad, finding it hard to use, not working or they did not get a response.

Around thirty per cent felt it could be easier to use and 18 per cent said they would like more help in how to use it.

Based on the feedback, Healthwatch Norfolk recommends the practice explores other options which would be more beneficial to patients while also reducing call queues and the pressure on receptionists.

If they do choose a new system, it said the practice should:

  • Consult with patients before introducing new systems.
  • Let them know it is an additional option and they can still speak to a receptionist.
  • Give people more guidance in how to use a new system before it is introduced and make sure it is easy to use.

If the practice decides to keep Patient Partner, it should:

  • Ensure there is a short explanation of the system when people ring through
  • Reassure patients they can still speak to a receptionist if they wish.
  • Give more guidance to patients on how to use it.
  • Make sure staff keep checking the system and reply to people.
  • Ensure people who have sent a message through Patient Partner get a response.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

John Bultitude, head of communications at Healthwatch Norfolk, said: “Communication is at the heart of what we heard from patients at the Reepham and Aylsham Medical Practice. They want to be reassured that their messages and information are reaching the right people in the right way, and that they still have the option of talking to a person if they wish.

“Several hundred people helped us shape the report and recommendations and we hope the constructive suggestions will assist the practice in evaluating its patient communication around contacting staff and enhance how that element of its work operates.”

Wendy Dicks, practice manager at the Reepham and Aylsham Practice, said lots of people do use Patient Partner but it is not the way many prefer to contact them, do not understand its benefits and they can still contact the team in other ways.

She said: “Actions given in this report will be evaluated to look at the findings and how the system can be improved. Advertising and information will be made available to patients through local newspapers, the website, and within the surgery to detail the different methods available and how patients use these systems.”