News : New Hospital Phone System Frees Up Slots for Patients
Hong Kong, Aug 17, 2015 -- A separate call centre for the specialist outpatient clinic at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei can free up about 600 appointments per year. These were previously often wasted because patients failed to turn up.
The problem arose because patients with appointments who wished to cancel them were unable to get through to the hospital's hotline because they encountered either a busy tone or voicemail.
Hospital Authority's Jane Chan Lai-hung."We once picked up 60 calls a day, but realised that 100 voicemails were left unheard," said Jane Chan Lai-hung, chairwoman of the Hospital Authority's specialist outpatient clinics operations working group.
Under the new phone inquiry system, external calls are directed to a call centre operated by four clerical staff, who can answer general inquiries about issues such as appointments and referrals. For inquiries about medication, which make up 20 per cent of calls, healthcare professionals call back within an hour in the most urgent cases or within one to two weeks for routine arrangements such as requests for referral letters.
The system can handle up to 21 calls at the same time. Callers are informed where they are in the queue.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital.The new system has enhanced efficiency. By answering calls within three minutes, staff have been able to reallocate 50 appointments and six day surgery cases a month to waiting patients. "If the appointment was a week later, we would assign the quota to urgent patients. Distribution depends on the seriousness of the patient's illness," said Chan.
Before the implementation of the system, fewer than 10 unwanted places were released each month.
Another hospital, United Christian in Kwun Tong, launched the system last month. Installation is under way at five other hospitals. Authority staff hope to reallocate more than 3,500 appointments a year once these systems are in operation.
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Chan, however, admitted the system could not significantly relieve the huge pressure on specialist outpatient clinic services, which handled more than 700,000 new cases in the city in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
"The proportion is not much … but we don't want to waste any quotas," said Chan.
Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients' Voices, a group established just this month, welcomed the move as it is common for patients to be unable to get through when calling hospitals.
However, Lam was worried that patients might have to wait longer on the phone for someone to answer. "More manpower might be needed at peak hours to pick up calls," said Lam.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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