Report of mystery shopping exercise of GP phone systems

Healthwatch Coventry findings and recommendations from mystery shopping exercise of phoning GP practices
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Healthwatch staff and volunteers contacted all the GP practices in Coventry by telephone.

We found a variation in how long it took to get through and different approaches to phone systems and messages. Some of which worked better than others from a patient point of view.

Telephone contact is the main access route to GP services at this time.

From our experiences the things that we can see will help in GP phone systems:

1. Considering the tone of the message

  • use a welcoming and positive tone
  • human voices are better than automated one
  • not too formal

2. Pace

  • slow how the message is spoken down so people can take the information in
  • repeat key information eg phone numbers

3. Keeping messages short

  • think about what information is helpful and relevant from a patient point of view – and what information can be given at a different time to just those who need it
  • make sure information is up to date

4. Can it be easily understood?

  • use Plain English principles eg don’t use technical or complicated words

5. Testing messages

  • check the message by ringing in as a patient would every time the message is updated – this can identify things like a volume issue
  • get patient input especially at times such as considering a new phone system or new menu options

Examples of negative phrasing and positive phrasing

Do not attend the surgery without wearing a mask. - Patients visiting the surgery must wear a mask to protect themselves and others.

We do not offer face-to-face appointments as a first option. - To enable patients to get the right help, in the first instance we offer a phone appointment with a GP.

Do not attend the surgery if you have symptoms relating to Covid. - If you have symptoms relating to Covid please stay at home and call 111 who will advise you further.

We do not tolerate abuse from patients. - We ask you to treat our staff with dignity and respect.

Don’t call the surgery until after 2.30 pm for test results. - Please call after 2.30pm for test results.


Read our full report