The challenges faced in care homes today
Care homes are often busy and challenging environments for staff, who face a daily battle to deliver high-quality care under the pressure of a nationwide funding crisis. From a communications perspective, administrative and nursing staff use phones for everything from internal communications to speaking to relatives and external healthcare providers. The volume of calls coming in out and of care homes is therefore typically quite high, and without effective management, it can fast become a full-time role to route calls to the right place.
Typical phone system setup for most care homes
Most care homes will have a traditional digital phone system, likely using ISDN lines with hardwired phones scattered throughout the building. A receptionist will take the call and route it through to the relevant nursing station or office when calls come in. From there, depending on the types of phones in place, things can get quite tricky. For example, we've heard stories of residents needing to be hoisted out of bed to get to a hardwired telephone. Not only is this potentially harmful to the resident, but it also uses up the valuable time of the nursing staff.
Types of calls care homes handle
This isn't an exhaustive list, but usually, most care homes will handle a significant volume of the following types of calls each day:
- Calls to and from relatives
- Calls to and from GPs and healthcare providers
- Administrative calls to and from suppliers
- Internal calls between staff
Primary issues with traditional telephone systems for care homes
Again, there are likely many issues that you can think of when it comes to your phone system, but the ones that we hear most frequently are:
- A huge amount of time is spent routing calls to the right place; it's a full-time role in many cases.
- Calls from residents' GPs or healthcare providers often come with instructions to the nursing team about medication or care. It can sometimes be challenging to record those crucial instructions accurately.
- There are either hardwired phones everywhere or a lack of coverage for wireless handsets. Either way, it results in people moving to take calls rather than phones going to them.
- The cost of the system, its maintenance, the associate lines and call charges is often quite high.
- Phones can sometimes be abused in care homes.
A brief introduction to VoIP
VoIP is basically the technology used to allow people to make telephone calls over the internet. All businesses (and consumers) need to move to VoIP before 2025, as that's when BT will switch off its PSTN and ISDN networks.
As we'll go into next, the good news is that switching to VoIP has many benefits, not only in features and functionality but also in cost savings. To give you an example, it isn't unusual for companies to save up to 47% on the cost of their telecoms by moving to a business VoIP phone system.
Benefits of VoIP for care homes
These are the top benefits of moving your care home to VoIP based phone system.
Cost is always key in any business, but perhaps even more so in a care setting where every penny spent running the company is one less that could be spent on care. While there are many ways VoIP will improve the way you manage calls in your care homes, the most significant benefit in our minds is the reduction of telephony costs.
Smart inbound call routing
The next benefit of VoIP for care homes is automatically routing calls to their correct destination. Firstly, you'll have an auto-attendant which is essentially a virtual receptionist. Callers can choose from a list of options to get their call through to the right person or team, first time, every time. Not only does this reduce or remove the need for an actual receptionist, but it also means relatives get through to their loved ones faster - it's a win-win. Secondly, with features like time-of-day routing, call transfer and forwarding, you can configure the system to fit your specific requirements.
As we mentioned a little earlier, care homes often receive calls from many other healthcare providers, from GPs and hospitals through to physios and more. It will usually fall to the nursing team to field many of these calls, and they need to pay close attention to precisely what is being suggested or prescribed by that professional. It's no secret that many care homes operate with a significant proportion of international employees. Therefore, it's not surprising that specific instructions can be misunderstood at times, even for native English speakers. The best VoIP phone systems come with call recording, making it very easy for the nursing team to listen back to the call if someone thinks something has been missed.
Wireless handsets and mobile apps
Next, it's the brilliant portability of VoIP as between wireless IP handsets and mobile apps; your team can literally take calls anywhere. Residents can take calls from the comfort and privacy of their room, while staff can be confident that they can make calls from anywhere in the home if they need to. This feature alone improves resident care and minimises the time nursing staff spend taking people to and from phones.
Marketing-messages-on-hold (or music)
One of the lesser-known advantages of VoIP phone systems for care homes is playing marketing messages to people while they are on hold. It doesn't have to be marketing messages either; you can choose what you'd like to play while people wait. For example, it could be that you have new procedures for visitors to the home that you want to communicate or an upcoming event you would like to promote. You have complete flexibility to choose what's recorded and when it's played. The uses for the functionality are almost limitless.
Finally, to combat the issue of the misuse of companies phones, you can use call logging to track every call made through the system.
The above represent the biggest benefits to care homes, but here are some others that may be relevant to you:
- Make and receive calls on desktops and laptops; you don't even need physical handsets if you don't want them
- Integration with CRM systems and cloud software such as Microsoft Teams
- There are no inter-office call charges; calls between your sites are free and treated like internal calls
- Extensive range of handsets, both wired and wireless
- Choice of numbers and easy to move your existing numbers over
- Handsets can have "busy lamp keys" showing people whether the person they are calling is already on the phone before they even pick up the phone
- Voicemail to email, again, another time-saving benefit
As you can see, there are tons of reasons to move your care home to VoIP, but as we outline in the next section, it's not just about the technology but how it's deployed that matters.
Getting the most from your VoIP phone system
We'll get onto which phone systems are best for care homes in a moment, but a key consideration when choosing one is working with a telecoms company that has experience in your industry. All VoIP phone systems will come with lots of features, but getting the right ones configured for your requirements takes expert knowledge. We work with care homes across the UK and have done so for over 20 years, so we know what matters to companies like yours and, importantly, how to get the most from a system while keeping costs down.
What's the best phone system for care homes?
Invariably, there are only two systems that we will recommend to care homes looking for a VoIP phone system. The first is a cloud-hosted system called Horizon provided by the award-winning UK telecoms company Gamma. Horizon is brilliant for companies of all sizes, but perhaps what stands it out for care homes is its configurable features and its many features. Not only that, but the price is very affordable, and the service comes with thousands of free calls each month.
The second option we sometimes recommend for a more bespoke solution is 3CX. Unlike Gamma Horizon, 3CX can be hosted both on your premises or in the cloud.
The best VoIP phone systems for care homes in 2022:
- Gamma Horizon
Which of these is best for your business will depend on your requirements, so please get in touch so we can help you decide.
As we've outlined, there are a large number of reasons why you should consider upgrading to VoIP in your care home sooner rather than later, not least the cost savings to be gained. Importantly though, make sure you choose an experienced telecoms partner to help set it up so that you can get the most from this exciting technology. For more information or an indicative quote, please contact us at email@example.com or call 01202 854111. We hope to speak to you soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is VoIP?
VoIP stands for Voice over IP, which is the technical way of saying telephone calls over the internet.
Can you use VoIP without a provider?
Usually, you need a provider of some description, either giving you access to a cloud phone system or at the very least providing you with SIP trunks connected to an onsite system.
How much does it cost to install a VoIP phone system?
It shouldn't cost anything to install a VoIP phone system, and usually, everything is built into your ongoing monthly subscription.
How much do VoIP calls cost?
The cost of VoIP calls can vary, but one of our preferred options, Gamma Horizon, comes with a huge 4,000 free minutes per user per month, so you may not need to pay anything for calls.