What the NHS needs now is... Clarity

For the past few weeks I've been suffering with a cold, thanks to the great British weather, I'm not one for letting a little cold get in the way of work or play, so I've been soldiering on. Before a day of meetings, a couple of weeks ago, I learnt not to take the wrong cold and flu tablets before bed, yes you guessed it the ones that contain caffeine, I was wide awake at 2:30am on the Tuesday morning knowing I had a full day of meetings ahead, not good, but thankfully one of the team was driving not me!

Anyway I digress, on Saturday after a walk followed by coffee and cake with the family, I had to give into the nagging of my wife, sister and mum to finally seek medical advice. Being the weekend, the doctor’s is closed, so I took the line of least resistance... the pharmacy.  On explaining my symptoms, the pharmacist said, ‘You've probably got a chest infection; I’d advise you to see a doctor'.

Now this is where it gets interesting from a business point of view. My wife handed me her phone which was calling the out of hours GP line, I was greeted by an automated message along the lines of, ‘This out of hours phone line is no longer answered... if you’re at death’s door call 999, if it's not urgent call 111’.  

Thinking that 111 was not going to get me an appointment with a GP I drove to our local walk-in centre, and booked in. As you can imagine the waiting room was packed, not to worry I came prepared - popped in my headphones and continued listening to my audio book. 

After a 25 minute wait I was called in for assessment, the nurse did all the usual stuff, temperature, blood pressure, sats... all normal if you're interested. Then informed me it was a 2 hour wait.  

She could see my face sink, so I asked why the out of hours GP service was no longer available, to which her reply was “it is”.  After explaining that I'd rung the out of hours GP number before coming here and got a message saying no one was available she said, ‘Well did you ring 111?’ My response was, ‘No because that wouldn't get me a doctor’s appointment’. What she said next made complete sense and I can see why the PCT or whatever it's called now have made this change because it's for the better but the way they've implemented it is shocking.

The nurse explained all enquiries are now fielded by the North West 111 service, they perform an initial triage assessment over the phone to decide the most appropriate form of treatment for you, one of which being an out of hours GP appointment. This was not made clear in the voicemail message I received when calling the out of hours GP. 

I told the nurse and the receptionist at the walk-in centre, I wasn’t going to wait 2 hours and ring 111 instead.

So after a quick 10 minute call I had an appointment to see a GP in 30 minutes. Driving straight from the walk-in centre to the surgery I arrived early and was surprised to find the car park only had 3 cars in it and the waiting room completely empty! Turns out the 3 cars belonged to the 2 doctors and 1 receptionist, there was literally no one else there, so a couple of minutes later I left with a prescription having received the best service ever from the NHS... it was like having a private appointment.

Empty waiting room at the Out of Hours GP

Empty waiting room at the Out of Hours GP

Walking out I couldn't help thinking how many of the people at the walk-in centre could have been seen by a GP?  My guess is at least 70%. But because of an ill thought out voicemail message which fails to explain how to get help properly, no one knows how to access the out of hours GP! I’d like to know how many patients were seen by the two doctors at the surgery on Saturday compared to the walk-in centre. 

What's the point of my ramblings? I've got one thing to say...

In business your message, whether it's a marketing message or operational message, needs to be crystal clear. 

Effective communication and getting your point across in the simplest way possible is super important to the success of your business. 

Imagine for one second that the walk-in centre and out of hours surgery were normal businesses, that had to turn a profit. One would be overrun with customers and the other would be shutting up shop within a month due to lack of them. All because of an unclear voicemail message which didn't give me (the customer) all the information I needed to make an informed decision.

Make sure your message, whatever it may be, is crystal clear.  

PS If you know anyone at the North West PCT I’d love to have a chat with them to help improve the quality and clarity of their voicemail messages.