Arthur Dent tries to see the doctor, Or, being on the wrong side of Innovation

February 17, 2011 at 9:16 am 3 comments

by Alec Patton

I’m at home, ill, so I shouldn’t really be writing this, but I just rang up my GP’s to book an appointment and I think the conversation is worth recording.

To preface, I should say that as long as I’ve been going there, my GP’s surgery has offered very limited advance appointments, with most of the appointments becoming available on the day, meaning that in order to get an appointment you need to ring at 8:30 AM and repeatedly press redial until you stopped getting a busy signal and joined the queue of callers – it’s like booking concert tickets.

So this morning, I went through this familiar ritual, until I reached a receptionist. Here’s how the call went:

Alec: Hi, I’d like to book an appointment for this morning.

Receptionist: Are you aware that we’ve changed our booking policy? The new system came in on Monday. You can now book with the doctor of your choice up to one month in advance, but we don’t take bookings on the day. We’ve had fliers in the office about this for the last couple of months.

Alec: So I can’t book an appointment?

Receptionist: I can book you in for next week, what day would be best?

Alec: Well, I’m ill now, so I’d really like to see a doctor today. And incidentally, I’ve been to see a doctor within the last couple of months, why didn’t anybody tell me this was changing?

Receptionist: Well, as I say, we’ve had fliers about it in the doctor’s surgery for the last couple of months.

Alec: Do you have any idea how many fliers you have in that office? Between the chlamydia brochures and the stop smoking programmes, it must have escaped my attention. Look, I really don’t see why nobody said anything about this when I was in!

Receptionist: The fliers were on the table just as you came in, and we had posters up. You can’t expect us to ring up every single patient to tell them we’re changing the system.

Alec: I don’t expect that, it would just have been nice if somebody said something when I was in the surgery!

The story has a reasonably happy ending: I got an 11:00 appointment for tomorrow. But I’m writing it up because it’s an emblematic example of what is probably a positive change (I hate the current booking system) being implemented in a way that makes the service user incredibly frustrated).

Any time I’m working on a service innovation project, I’m going to try to remember me, in my bathrobe, at the phone, just trying to use the improved service in the old way, because nobody told me any different.

NB: If you don’t know who Arthur Dent is (from the title) or why he’s relevant, read the first chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


Entry filed under: Public Services.

Really radical heart surgery Closing date for intern applications is this Friday

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Claire McEneaney  |  February 17, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Alec – this made me laugh a lot but at the same time you’re right about positive change being enacted in a way that leaves the user confused and irritated, having received a worse service.

    Imagine if you hadn’t been in the doctors at all over the last couple of months? What system had they in place to make sure less frequent users of the surgery knew about the new policy? (And if your GP’s is anything like mine, no wonder you didn’t spot them!)

    This just emphasises to me exactly what we’re learning on TEY, which is that communication with the users of your service is crucial. From awareness raising, to consultation, to co-ops and mutuals – whatever form it takes, it is something that you cannot afford to ignore.

  • 2. kathrynrosetyler  |  February 17, 2011 at 11:32 am

    This is genius. And begs me to yet again answer the question – why don’t the NHS routinely collect email addresses? I used to work in the NHS, for a mental health trust and we had disappointingly low returns for our annual patient survey. I queried this in one management meeting. It turned out that all patient surveys were sent out in hard copy. I NEVER return surveys in hard copy, I really mean to. I fill them in. I put them in the envelope. But I don’t get round to sending them as I never have a stamp on me and the post box is out of my way. Lazy yes but there are many people out there like me. Filling something in electronically and then pinging it off is simple. So I suggested we email them an online survey instead. The response I got was “we don’t have anyone’s email address so we can’t do that”. I was shocked. It was 2010. I will say that again because it’s crazy. It was 2010! Most people have emails and I give mine out all the time to people I view as far more suspicious than the NHS, who I would view as highly unlikey to contact me with spurious marketing demands such as trying to get me to buy viagra on the internet. Well that wouldn’t make sense would it?

    If your GP collected everyone’s email addreses they wouldn’t have to ” ring up every single patient to tell them we’re changing the system”. They would have to write one email, and send to their database. I mean that is probably THE least insightful recommendation we’ve ever made on this blog to improve public services because it is so blooming obvious.

    • 3. Claire McEneaney  |  February 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm

      Yup – totally agree. It’s not just the NHS – all public services could be better about using email or social media tools to communicate things to people. I think the old ‘oh but people don’t have access to the internet’ just doesn’t wash anymore.

      Much more effective and cost efficient than sending out a load of leaflets.


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