The telephone health solution

When it comes to our health, the humble telephone has proved to be a lifesaver in more ways than one. Now we’re not simply talking here about the 999 service which has been helping to save lives since its introduction in 1937. Whilst that is the first line of call for life-threatening emergencies, over recent years we have also seen health services becoming increasingly reliant on the telephone; both as a means of streamlining practices and improving patient welfare.

As a result we are seeing an increasing use of SMS text messages as a means of reminding patients about their existing appointments or to ask patients to make appointments for routine checkups. We’ve also seen an increase in the use of telephone triage as a means of screening requests for doctors’ appointments. Set alongside telephone consultations, this can help to optimise doctor/patient interactions as well as boosting the number of patients treated in any given time period.

Now research carried out by the UCL School of Pharmacy has revealed that telephone interventions by pharmacists can improve medication adherence in patients with long-term conditions. Following a three-year randomised controlled trial, the study revealed that an initial fifteen minute telephone consultation with a pharmacist followed by two shorter conversations after four to six weeks significantly increased the chances of individuals maintaining their medicine regime. Moreover, the positive effect was also noticed six months after the trial had concluded.

Commenting on the study Theo Raynor, professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Leeds and a co-supervisor of the study highlighted the way in which a tailored conversation is an ideal way of alleviating concerns as well as simply helping people to remember to take their medication. His comments were echoed in The Pharmaceutical Journal by another professor of primary care pharmacy, Carmel Hughes, who commented that “the value of a conversation cannot be underestimated.”

That’s a comment which reaches way beyond health practices and out into everyday life. How many businesses would benefit from simply picking up the phone to regular customers and having a conversation?  How many problems or misunderstandings could be avoided by a follow-up call to check that a new product or service is meeting expectations? And how many product development ideas are being missed because businesses just aren’t talking to the people who use their products every day?

It’s easy to say that that all comes under the heading of market research but in all too many businesses market research tends to be focused and targeted to answer specific questions.  And whilst there is nothing wrong with that, businesses could be missing out on information that they haven’t gathered simply because they aren’t asking the right questions. Having a simple open follow up call could fill that missing gap, helping customers to ask the questions that have been niggling at them whilst helping the business to build an understanding of the way in which their products are really being used.

Just as phones are being used nowadays to deliver health solutions for people, perhaps we should also look to the humble phone call to deliver everyday solutions in other walks of life. Until we pick up the phone, who knows what we might discover?

Written by Alison