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Telephone bills in busy practices can be very high indeed. Try to minimise them, possibly by linking

up with others to bargain for discounts,says

Rachel Stark

Practices will have seen phone bills rising as the demand for telephone consultations increases and telephone triage is used as a way to manage demand.

Practices that are still using BT as their call provider can look at least-cost routing as a way of reducing their call costs significantly ­ typically by about 25-30 per cent.

But with over 400 providers in the marketplace, practices should consider their pro-vider carefully to ensure maximum savings.

Issues when evaluating providers

At our surgery we have just switched over to SWT Network (also known as South West Communications). SWT Network was the first appointed BT retail partner for call routing. This means it works in partnership with BT and avoids the potential problems with service and fault-fixing ­ and also avoids the re-programming often needed to route calls.

It offers capped call rates of 2p per minute for all UK landline calls and 10p per minute for all mobile calls. For us, this meant a saving of £3,000 per annum ­ 27 per cent of call costs. The online billing services are very useful, especially the automatic alerts to highlight misuse.

For practices looking to upgrade their telephone system to one that uses the latest technology, Surgery Line could be an option.

Surgery Line provides a modern system with no set-up fee ­ just a monthly charge set according to your daily call volume. Surgery Line has an alliance with an LCR provider for calls into the surgery and uses the savings to fund the monthly fee for the telephone system. As part of the system the practice will have a new 0844 telephone number.

The savings made do depend on the call volume and so the monthly payment may be more or less than the monthly charge.

Any savings over the monthly charge can be used to fund telecommunications ­ for example additional functions like advanced call recording ­ or they can be held in reserve for months when the savings don't meet the monthly charge.

Callers are charged for the call at the standard local rate number ­ although where they themselves have LCR, their lower rates will not apply.

Rachel Stark is the practice manager of New East Quay Medical Centre, Bridgwater, Somerset

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