Patchs Telephone Assistant FAQ

Dr Ben Brown
Dr Ben Brown
  • Updated

This article covers common questions about the Patchs Telephone Assistant.

Accessing the System

  • Does the patient need a Patchs account? No. Any patient registered at the practice can use the service. They are verified using the PDS.
  • Can carers (proxies) use the service? Yes.
  • How do you prevent children using the service? We inform the caller that only people over the age of 16 can use the service. If they are submitting the request for themselves we check the date of birth and only allow them to submit the request if they are over the age of 16. If they are submitting the request on behalf of someone they care for we do not verify the age. (In a future version, we will allow the practices to choose to block proxy requests for under 16s.)
  • Can I prevent patients from accessing the service? Yes. The demand limiter can be set to allow through as many requests as desired. (In a future version, we will allow practices to block individual patients.)
  • Can it be turned off? Yes. It can be turned off or access limited using the demand limiter.
  • What happens Out Of Hours or when there are no Patchs slots available? Patients will be directed to local services or to call NHS 111.
  • Can it just be used for admin requests? Yes. The number of slots are set using the demand limiter which can be set individually for clinical and admin requests.


  • How will I be able to monitor the usage? A dashboard will show real-time usage and costs. 
  • How long does an average call last? We estimate an average call will last ~5 minutes. This is currently being evaluated.  
  • What are you doing to minimise the cost? 
    • We are designing the process to minimise the time required for the calls such as removing ineligible patients e.g. medical emergencies and children as soon as possible, and shortening the script. 
  • How many concurrent calls can it handle? The system can manage multiple concurrent requests with the limit set to the number of available Patchs slots. Patients will not have to wait on hold.
  • What happens with high usage patients? Practices will be able to limit the daily usage per patient and block specific patients (available in version 2). 
  • What happens when there are multiple requests from one patient? They are shown as separate requests in the Patchs inbox. When reviewing a request, the other requests are also shown.
  • Why do I have to pay on a per minute basis? This is how we are charged by our telephony supplier. We do provide fixed bulk prices to help manage costs. 
  • Why are call diversions disabled? We are currently unable to fully 'hand-off' a call via call diversion which means that the practice would be charged for the cost of the Telephone Assistant call plus a call diversion fee. This makes call diversions expensive. We are currently working with our telephony provider on a technical solution to reduce this cost.
  • Does it need to be turned on all the time? No. It can be turned on and off whenever you want. It can just be used at peak times, on all the time, or only made available to patients with accessibility issues. 
  • Can it book patients directly into appointment slots? Not currently but we are looking to develop this in the future. 
  • Will it replace receptionists? No. The Telephone Assistant cannot do all the things a receptionist does. It is designed to support and augment receptionists. It can do a lot of the information gathering and manual work upfront to make receptionists’ lives easier. 
  • If the system can’t manage a particular call, what will it do? If the system is unable to verify the patient’s identity, unable to understand the patient’s responses or the patient is ineligible to use the service e.g. underage, the patient is asked to call the GP practice and speak to a receptionist. [Call diversions are currently disabled - please see question above]
  • Do I need to have Patchs to use the Telephone Assistant? Yes. If you are currently using a different Online Consultation solution you can use Patchs in parallel for telephone calls (additional costs apply).
  • Are the transcriptions accurate? It uses similar technology used for voice transcription in Amazon Alexa, and Apple and Android phones. The technology is in widespread use and improving all the time. We believe it should work well for most patients. We are currently evaluating its accuracy for patients with strong accents or speech impediments. Where transcriptions are not accurate, staff can easily play back a segment of the voice recording. 
  • Why are medication requests turned off? Due to patients and automated transcription services being unreliable in providing medication names, medication requests have been disabled for clinical safety. 

Clinical Safety

  • What happens if there is a medical emergency? At the start patients are told not to use the system in a medical emergency, and can listen to a list of examples. If it is a medical emergency they are told to call 999 or visit their nearest A&E department. If you have Urgency AI and Signpost AI modules switched on, there are also additional checks using the Patchs AI to verify whether patients are submitting an emergency request by analysing what they say. If an emergency request is detected the patient is instructed to visit A&E or call 999. It also warns patients submitting urgent requests out of hours to call NHS 111.
  • What if the transcriptions are wrong? If staff believe there may be an error in the transcription, they can play back the audio of individual questions to check. They can then update the text prior to saving to the clinical system. If they are still unsure, they should contact the patient to check.
  • How does the triaging process work? A patient provides their symptoms using their voice, which is then transcribed into a written message. If you have Urgency AI and Signpost AI modules switched on, they detect if the request is an emergency, urgent or routine. This is then flagged to the patient (emergency/urgent OOH) and staff (emergency/urgent) in the standard Patchs way.

Information Governance

  • What additional data will be stored in standard Patchs? Voice recordings will be stored. This is necessary to allow audio playback to check transcriptions. 
  • Who will have access to the data? The data access will be the same as for Patchs. It will be accessible to the practice (data controller) and Spectra (data processor). 
  • How will Spectra use the data? Spectra will only access voice recordings if requested by the practice to provide direct support. User access restrictions and audit logs are in place. 
  • Where will the data be stored? It will be stored in a secure encrypted data store using AWS in the London location with backups held in Ireland. 
  • Will voice recordings be stored in the clinical system? Not currently. This may be considered in the future.
  • When will voice recordings be deleted? When requested by the practice (data controller) or 12 months after a practice terminates their Patchs contract.


  • Can patients be asked further questions and questionnaires using Topic AI? We will be looking to add this in version 2.
  • Does PATCHS Translate work with Telephone Assistant? Not initially. This may be possible in future though. 
  • Will the consultation save to the clinical system? Yes. It will save to your clinical system (Systm1/EMIS) in the same way that a normal Patchs consultation does - as a free text consultation or PDF attachment depending on your selection.

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