When the hallowed choose and book system first hit our aged computer screens, I liked the idea of it. It claimed to be system that allowed patients more choice about where they were seen and who they were seen by and it seemed like the right way forward. In the early days my patients too were delighted with it. They could pick their hospital, pick their doctor by a name they liked the look of and sometimes, if I was feeling particularly generous, they could even book their appointment during our consultation, there and then. Amazing.
Unfortunately however things no longer seem so rosy. Over the past few weeks I have been plagued by hoards of angry 'choose and bookers', furious with the service they are (not) getting. Their telephone line is always busy, with patients having to call over and over again to get through. It takes days. My absolute favourite is what happens when you try and make an appointment with the local musculoskeletal clinic. Here, when you do finally get through, the telephonist cheerily informs you that there are unfortunately no appointments left at the moment and to please try again in a few weeks. What?
It's not great for us doctors either. I tried to hurry along a review appointment for a patient of mine the other day. He had been seen by a neurologist in early January with a review planned post test results. The tests were done in February. The review appointment was booked for September. This might have been acceptable if all the results had been normal, but in this case they were not and the patient was deteriorating. I called the consultant's secretary but they do not book appointments anymore. I called the appointments line but they were not able to make changes without the request of the secretary. In the end I sent a total of three faxes and telephoned both the secretary and the appointments line twice a week for three weeks before I achieved my goal.
How I wish I could just write an old fashined referral letter...