As a legacy of the most recent NHS reorganisation, Eldon Macarthur inherited a scattering of small offices across the county of Kent, each with its own phone arrangements. Physical reorganisation, moving people and assets around, was not an option. So how else could referrals and patient services be better co-ordinated?
BT Cloud Contact provided the perfect answer. Now, phone numbers have been rationalised and staff are being organised into virtual teams, each able to handle multiple services. Eldon’s already seen enhanced business resilience and more flexible working, while productivity and patient services have also improved.
Kent Community Health NHS Trust supports people in their homes, health clinics, local hospitals and minor injury units. Formed from the merger of Eastern and Coastal Kent Community Services NHS Trust and West Kent Community Health, nearly 1½ million residents are cared for, many with long-term conditions.
The size and geography of the region had always posed challenges, while receptionists and call handlers were tied to lots of small offices (a legacy of the merger). Seemingly simple functions like ordering wheelchairs or engaging district nurses involved a cat’s cradle of too many teams and phone numbers.
Eldon Macarthur, head of IT operations and telecoms at Kent Community Health NHS Trust, says: “Each site had its own way of working. Referrals relied on a loose arrangement of remote switchboards, phones and faxes.” As a result, costly hospital admission was too often the default treatment.
Furthermore, there were no systems to cope with peaks in demand, and little co-ordination between teams. The creation of five clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) covering Kent provided the Trust with the opportunity to bring it all together.
Following a tendering exercise, BT Global Services was invited to implement a BT Cloud Contact virtual contact centre solution across the Kent Community Health NHS Trust.
BT not only offered the best value, but also we had confidence in its ability to provide excellent service. The virtual contact centre market is comparatively new, so you really need a supplier you can rely on for the long term.
Also strongly positive was the multichannel functionality offered by BT Cloud Contact. Although the initial implementation involved voice calls only, the ability to combine voice, email, and web interactions into one universal queue is seen as an attractive feature for the future. As a pay-as-you-go service, BT Cloud Contact is cost effective too; requiring minimal upfront capital investment in the face of today’s restricted healthcare budgets.
The BT Cloud Contact platform will enable Kent Community Health NHS Trust to set up Trust-wide phone numbers for individual services like wheelchair service provision, district nursing, physiotherapy, and many more besides. Requiring only a broadband internet connection and no extra onsite hardware, people right across the county will be able to act as virtual contact centre agents. The Trust ordered an initial 50 licenses, enabling five virtual teams to be assembled from staff members in different locations working together collaboratively.
Central phone numbers have been established for the ambulance service, GPs and other health professionals, as well as for patients. BT Cloud Contact interactive voice response (IVR) functionality means customers can self-serve for simple matters like wheelchair return, while skills-based routing delivers more complex calls direct to the person best able to deal with it. “Furthermore, the system can prioritise call handling so that, for example, medical emergencies take precedence over routine appointment bookings,” says Eldon Macarthur.
Undertaken in stages, the rollout started with the Swale CCG in Sheppey. After its first full year of operation, the virtual contact centre is working in different locations across the Swale, Dartford, West Kent, Ashford, Canterbury and South Kent Coast CCGs. The Trust’s Health and Wellbeing services – including Stop Smoking, Healthy Weight, Health Checks, Health Trainers and the Expert Patient Programme – have also invested in the system.
Each site had its own exacting requirements, some with six different service partitions and five telephone numbers, meaning as many as 30 different calls flows had to be designed by BT and programmed into the system. On hand throughout, BT showed staff how to use the system as well as providing training on reprogramming. For instance, call prioritisation can now be adjusted in minutes by the Trust’s own people using the intuitive BT Cloud Contact web-based interface.
Changing the way patient and clinician enquiries are routed and managed has made a clear difference. With agents able to handle multiple services, more appointments can be handled more quickly. That greatly improves productivity and customer service. Business resilience is assured too because if any site goes off air due to, perhaps, flood or power failure, team members elsewhere can take the calls.
“A virtual contact centre solution is ideal,” confirms Eldon Macarthur. “Previously, if a staff member was, say, snowed-in, we had to find someone else to fill in or the service would suffer. Now our people can simply tell the platform to redirect their calls, so they can log in from home or elsewhere.” Furthermore, as the system records that information, it’s a great management tool and helps assure health and safety.
Also, the BT Cloud Contact platform provides Trust management with complete visibility of statistics such as call flows, call traffic volumes, time to answer, and call holding times. This not only enables dynamic resource optimisation and performance monitoring, but also allows the measurement of teams’ customer service levels.
In terms of reducing hospital admissions, when ambulance paramedics arrive at a patient’s home as the result of a 999 call, they carry out an assessment to see if the patient needs hospitalisation or if another course of action, such as enlisting a district nurse, would be more appropriate. A call into the virtual contact centre settles the matter. “We can see the paramedic ringing in on a special 0300 number and such calls are given priority,” explains Eldon.
The contact centre, or local referral units as they’re termed, have 10 minutes to seek an alternative care pathway. Eldon adds: “That way we’re reducing unnecessary hospital admissions by offering support at the point of care.”
At present staff at many locations use dual screens: one runs the BT Cloud Contact virtual contact centre application, the other the Trust’s referral management system (RMS). Using its built-in open application programming interface (API), work is in hand to develop a BT Cloud Contact CRM module to link with the RMS app. That will enable time-saving measures such as pre-populating online referral forms with patient data. Already, screen popups show patient information to people answering calls.
A long-term benefit is that the BT Cloud Contact solution is helping change how the Trust plans for the future. For instance, property strategy is no longer dictated by contact centre locations, while more joined-up patient care could result from shared services arrangements with local bodies like social services.
This has been an evolutionary process. For example, we’ve learned that a virtual contact centre will enable us in the future to offer affordable county-wide 24/7 service from a single contact centre location.
As a cloud-based service, the virtual contact centre is almost limitlessly scalable. So plans to invite social services teams at Kent County Council to join, will in no way stretch its capabilities. Moreover, using the BT Cloud Contact web interface, more agents can be added quickly or, say, different skillsets assigned to call queues, without calling on expensive technical knowledge.