I’m emailing, the phone rings, knock at the door

It doesn’t happen often but it did on Tuesday.  I’m carefully framing an email when the phone rings, I answer trying to be polite and there’s a knock at the door, meter reader.

What to do?  Inevitably I let the meter reader in, apologising to my phone caller, and when I get back to the email I’ve lost the thread completely and have to start again.

It focussed my attention on communication channels and how we need to control them to make the best use of precious time.  We wouldn’t dream nowadays of ringing up to find a train time or a bank balance, and rarely write a paper letter.

We’ve changed in a very few years to using new remote, online and asynchronous channels in all walks of life, but healthcare lags behind.  It might not matter except that the workforce is under ever more pressure and service is getting worse – one practice manager told me yesterday their wait is three weeks to see a GP.

At last the NHS is talking seriously about a change of mode.  I even met a “channel shift manager” last week.  But most of the talk is stuck in technology.  “The doctor will Skype you now” (published data shows 3% takeup, no time saved, trial abandoned).  “Consult your GP online” (published data shows only 1% takeup, effect too small to measure).

To make the impact that it should, the move online needs to work for both users and providers.  For patients it must offer

  • universality – every user, all the time, any kind of question or medical problem.
  • ease of use – not designed for twentysomething graduates in work, but all ages and abilities
  • service – patients do what works for them, fast, especially when in need of medical help.  Minutes count, or anxiety drives patients to those more costly phone and walk-in channels.

All very well, but if it doesn’t work for providers, it won’t last.  It must be

  • faster to deal with.  The treasure lies here, nowhere else.
  • high volume.  1% is just a distraction.  30% is a good start, but we’ll soon see over 50% online
  • integral to system change.  “New wine in old wineskins spills the wine and spoils the wineskins”.  To deliver the speed and volume needed to save meaningful amounts of time requires change.

It’s only human to want short cuts, and therefore to believe in them when offered.  Disappointment surely follows.  Real change does not have to be slow, weeks not months, but we’ve found that those who leap the chasm* fastest do best.

Happy days.

Harry Longman

Founder, Chief Executive
GP Access Ltd

*Shuffling across a chasm is not advised.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *