You should triage Patchs requests immediately, and send an initial 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.
It just means that the request should be triaged and initially responded to, so that the patient knows you've received their request and that you're dealing with it. If you don't do this, the patient may ring the practice or submit another request to chase up what's happening.
Example holding messages from a receptionist might be:
- '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 fuller response so that they can reply quickly to any messages or answer the phone if you call them. In my own practice we have found that just saying 'morning' or 'afternoon' is sufficient.
Our research has found that doing this has the following benefits:
- It's safer. Even though patients are told not to use Patchs for medical emergencies, there's always a possibility that they could ignore this warning.
Patients are more likely to reply to your messages quickly or pick up the phone if you call them. There may be 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 by phoning them. If you leave it until the next day to do this then the patient may be unavailable, or they may have forgotten about their request - much like a DNA to a traditional GP appointment. Additionally, 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. 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. 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, they might 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.
It gives patients a good experience using Patchs and helps them to see the advantage of contacting you this way. There are many benefits for patients, receptionists, and clinical staff to making Patchs the main way that patients contact you, rather than by telephone. So when patients use it, you want to encourage them to keep using it by making their experience as good as possible. If they don't have a good experience using Patchs the first time they may not use it again, and will likely revert to using the telephone. We've found that one of the easiest ways to give patients a good experience of Patchs is to respond to their request ASAP.