Premium rate numbers are a nuisance for callers, but have become an increasingly prevalent system for some practices across the UK.
While a lot of offices have slowly started to divert away from them in the past couple of years, some still employ a telephone system which will charge users every time they contact the surgery.
Today we’re going to take a brief look at why a practice shouldn’t utilise premium rate numbers; highlighting some detracting and potentially eye-opening factors.
1) Losing Faith of Patients
It’s perhaps unsurprising that making your primary customer base pay for simply contacting you is going to cause something of a stir.
Even more distressingly for patients, the varied nature of different phone providers means it’s very hard to slap a fixed price on the amount it will cost people for every minute they spend on the phone.
The table below highlights this perfectly, with different mobile service providers charging varying amounts.
With a potential for as much as 45p a minute to be charged – and the well-publicised long waiting times customers often have to sit through – the costs are quick to mount for people who are looking to get in touch for medical care.
It wouldn’t be unreasonable for patients with a nearby rival practice to switch over, with a slightly longer drive potentially a worthwhile sacrifice if prices begin to rack up too high.
2) Lengthy Contracts You’re Trapped In
From the outside looking in, it’s not always obvious to see the hidden repercussions of entering into a phone contract with a service which provides a premium rate number.
0844 numbers are the primary choice of GPs, with these premium rates requiring you to sign up for a period of at least seven years.
Dr Deborah Colvin, chair of City and Hackney LMC, perfectly summarised a problem practices face when addressing the LMCs conference.
She highlighted the fact that despite pressure from the government to stop using these premium number services, it would be insanely expensive for them to cancel their contracts mid-service:
‘In order to get out of our contract it would cost us £60,000. We’ve explained that to the patients, we’ve explained that to NHS England, but we are being told we are in breach of our [NHS] contract.
The Hackney branch was caught unawares of this, with Dr. Colvin continuing to say:
‘We put the 0844 number into our surgery a couple of years ago in order to increase the number of lines for patients so they would get through easier, having been reassured it would be cheaper for patients to ring us that way.’
With ridiculous contracts seeing practices trapped into long-term deals which cost thousands to break, it’s better to avoid the process altogether.
Surgeries are now facing figures in the tens of thousands to bring partnerships to a premature end – something that’s not financially feasible for a lot of practices.
3) Government Sanctions
In 2009 the NHS announced it was banning practices from entering into new contracts which would see call rates rise to higher than the price of a geographical call (one made from outside the country).
Unsurprisingly, this would initially see a lot of companies choosing to divert away from the 0844 numbers from 2011 onwards (when the legislation was finally brought in), with the government banning any practices which continued to use them.
Worryingly though, in a Fair Telecoms Campaign carried out by the Daily Mail it was found a number of offices across the nation are in direct breach of these rules.
The survey found:
- 34 practices between Cornwall and West Yorkshire advertised premium rates online
- 5% of patients are kept on the phone between 20 to 60 minutes every day
- The average cost to patients in this bracket sits at £8-£24 a day
These numbers are alarming and would trigger an instant response from the Department for Health – with a spokesman announcing steps would be taken to deal with the problem in the coming months;
‘All premium phone contracts will soon come to an end and NHS England is monitoring progress in phasing them out.’
This worrying new data will only serve to increase the pressure from the NHS on practices that continue to use the premium rate systems. Those who do are likely to face severe action from the government and could even be fined.
Alternative Solutions for Practices:
1) 03 Numbers
If you’re not willing to totally ditch the use of a paid phone system, then a useful alternative could come in the form of an 03 number.
These will not cost any more than a call to an 01 or 02 telephone line, but still provide your business with a single national point across the UK.
Many SMEs prefer to utilise this service as it gives the representation of a national company, much like an 08 number, without driving away their important client base with a number which costs a small fortune to call.
2) Personal Telephone Systems
Companies offer a wide variety of specially designed telephone systems, which will provide fantastic services tailored to your practice’s specific needs.
Premier Patient Line is one such organisation, with a taskforce deployed to analyse a series of factors in order to craft the right system for you.
This involves breaking down and analysing the daily admin duties of a surgery, as well as identifying the primary needs of both patients and staff.
Using this data, a company like PPL is able to construct a system which will not only work perfectly for you, but which incorporates:
There are several steps around needing to use expensive premium rate numbers, but these two stand out as the best and most readily accessible for practices.
Ultimately, the use of paid phone services is a detrimental factor to any business in the modern era and should slowly be weaned out of practices as we head forwards.