Patchs Telephone Assistant FAQs

Dr Ben Brown
Dr Ben Brown
  • Updated

This article covers common questions about the Patchs Telephone Assistant.

Accessing the System

  • How do I enable Patchs Telephone Assistant at my practice? This article describes how to enable the Patchs Telephone Assistant for practices which have purchased (or are piloting) the module.
  • 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? Only patients 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 aged 16 or over. 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? The average call length is 5.5 minutes.
  • 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 don't currently divert patient calls back to reception because your GP practice would be charged for the cost of the Telephone Assistant call, plus a call diversion fee, then the remainder of the call would be charged at the price of the Telephone Assistant minutes. This makes call diversions expensive so instead we advise the patient hangs up and calls back reception themselves. 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 understand a particular caller, what will it do? The practice can choose to allow through patients that are not matched to PDS. If this is enabled, it will let through all patients that use the service. 
  • 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. 
  • Can medication requests be turned off? Yes

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 Patchs Health (data processor). 
  • How will Patchs Health use the data? We 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 I send written messages back to patients that use Patchs Telephone Assistant? Yes! You can send written messages back to patients like any other Patchs message. The patient will be able to see their transcribed Telephone Assistant request above your message in the chatbot. You can even send messages to patients that don't have an online Patchs account i.e. that have only ever used the Telephone Assistant - this works in the same way as sending messages to patients on your practice list through the Patchs Toolbar.
  • Can patients be asked further questions and questionnaires using Topic AI? We will be looking to add this in a future version.
  • Does Patchs Translate work with Telephone Assistant? Not currently. This may be possible in future though. 
  • Do Telephone Assistant consultations save to the clinical system? Yes. It saves to your clinical system (Systm1/EMIS) in the same way that a normal Patchs online consultation does.

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