There’s a lot of discussion lately about streaming services and becoming more modern. Most practices have taken on the ability to text patients and have a snazzy website, many offer online appointments and some also orgnaise virtual patient participant groups.
There is also now software around that almost removes the receptionist altogether when it comes to making or cancelling an appointment.
Can it really work?
With the software the patient can press 1 for an appointment, 2 to cancel an appointment and so it goes on to where they can choose their time and even which GP they’d like to see.
There are clearly some advantages to this and the first obviously is money! Software is cheaper than a person but is this really something that benefits patients and general practice?
Ok. Software I guess won’t complain about their hours or that they can’t have every Monday and Friday off. Also I’m imagining a much quieter workplace with less arguments over who ate the last biscuit to who didn’t wash up.
However, software can’t express sympathy to the newly bereaved wife or use common sense when an elderly patient phones and it says ‘it’s not important’. Software won’t have an internal alarm bell for the patient that really needs a diabetic check and happens to be making an appointment today. Automated systems can’t suggest that the patient also books in for what could be a life saving cervical screening appointment.
Technology has its place, the growth of patient services online via apps and websites is a good thing. Patients now have a wealth of information on hand accessing NHS Direct and symptom checkers. There are apps to encourage exercise, to discourage drinking and to help quit the cigarettes.
People can’t be replaced though can they?
Surgery staff may carry a certain reputation, let’s face it some people would rather face a round in a boxing ring than a round with the busy receptionist but they are the backbone of the doctors surgery. They’re not virtual, they’re not automated and they don’t expect patients to self-serve.
I might sound like an old dragon myself, we may at times wish the patient was ‘virtual’ rather than red faced and angry however nothing beats face to face contact to diffuse situations, to get a handle on what’s going on and sometimes to save a life.
Computers are here to stay, technology will continue to permeate our daily lives but at the end of the day no matter how good a computer system is it can’t and shouldn’t replace human contact. General Practice is an environment where compassion, sympathy and understanding are the main functions required to deliver a programme of care and that has to continue to be its main aim.