You should triage PATCHS requests immediately, and initially reply to patients ASAP (ideally within 1 hour). PATCHS requests are like phone calls - they're just a different way for patients to contact you. When a patient calls your practice using the phone, you try to answer it as soon as possible. This should be the same with PATCHS requests.
This does not mean you have to resolve their whole request straight away, just that the request should be triaged and initially responded to. For example, this could be a holding message from a receptionist:
- 'Thank you for contacting us, a GP will respond this afternoon'
- 'Thank you for your message, as this a routine request a GP will contact you next Wednesday morning. Please expect a message or telephone call from a withheld number'. (For further information on how to spread demand across different days, read this article.)
It's important to tell the patient exactly when they should expect a more full response so that they can reply quickly to any messages or answer the phone if you call them. In my practice we found that just saying 'morning' or 'afternoon' is sufficient.
Our research has found that doing this has the following benefits:
- It maintains patient safety. Even though patients are told not to use PATCHS for medical emergencies, there's always a possibility that they could ignore this warning. We are building an artificial intelligence system to help highlight potentially urgent requests, but still recommend triaging PATCHS requests ASAP.
Patients are more likely to reply to your messages quickly or pick up the phone if you call them. You may things you want to clarify with the patient before resolving their request. You can initially contact the patient either by sending them a message in PATCHS or phoning them. If you leave it until the next day to do this the patient may be unavailable, or may have forgotten about their request - much like a DNA to a traditional GP appointment. If you can't get hold of the patient they may end up submitting another one later, duplicating work. In PATCHS, patients are told to expect an email or phone call from a withheld number so they are expecting you to contact them and are usually very quick at replying if you get back to them on the same day.
Patients won't phone the practice chasing your response, or submit a duplicate request chasing the first one. As when a patient phones your practice, patients are anticipating a quick response from you. If you don't respond quickly, patients will phone your practice to find out if you've received their request or in some cases submit another request chasing the first one. Patients phoning the practice clogs up the phone lines for those that need to call you (e.g. patients that can't use PATCHS, or emergencies). It also creates avoidable work for your reception team. This is the same does if patients submit duplicate requests chasing each other.
To give patients a good experience using PATCHS and help them see the advantage of contacting you this way. There are many benefits for patients, receptionists, and clinical staff for making PATCHS the main way that patients contact you instead of by telephone. So when patients use it, you want to give them a great experience to encourage them to continue using it. If they don't have a great experience using PATCHS they won't use it again, and will go back to using the telephone. We've found that one of the easiest ways to give patients a good experience using PATCHS is to respond to their request ASAP.