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Controlling telephone costs in the practice

Q. We are increasingly concerned about the telephone bills in the practice which are becoming very high indeed.

Do you have any tips for minimising them?

A. With more than 400 providers in the marketplace, you should consider your provider carefully to ensure maximum

savings. Key issues when evaluating providers include contractual terms, contract length, notice period required and penalty clauses – the latter are quite rare.

You must ensure that you get the best deal possible for your call volume, and the deal must obviously meet your service needs as closely as possible.

Look at the rates offered for all types of calls. As a rule a significant proportion of calls from practices are local, but increasingly calls are being made to mobiles.

Check the profile of the types of call you make and ensure the balance of the call costs across this profile reflects the maximum opportunity for savings now and in the future of the contractual term.

Many providers have a minimum call cost they apply to all calls. Where the practice makes short calls this can reduce any savings. Although the minimum call cost is usually set at a low figure, it is important to check the minimum call cost that will be applied and whether this increases the call charges more than you anticipated.

You should check for any hidden costs, such as monthly levies or arrangement fees. These are not common, but do check the small print and where they do exist include them in any analysis of savings.

The service offered by least cost routing providers has improved dramatically since the scheme was first introduced. If you used a LCR provider when they first emerged and were let down, you may now be impressed by developments in the industry.

Many of these least cost routing providers offer online billing and itemised billing. And a very useful feature now available is automatic notification of high-cost calls.

You can set an amount or specify a type of call and when a call is made that exceeds this cost, you will be notified by e-mail about the call.

Some final tips. First, don't agree to any contract over the phone. Ensure you see the proposal and agreement in writing.

Second, the greater the volume of calls

you make, the higher the discount you can expect. Make sure you get the discount you deserve.

Third, if the offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you always read the fine print.

Finally, talk to other practices you know are well-organised and efficient. Find out what they do and check if the same thing would work best for you.

Rachel Stark, practice manager, Bridgwater, Somerset

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