Choose and book – so near yet so far (UK)

Those readers for whom a hospital appointment is very much a rarity may find the recent experiences of this editor of interest. For the only previous hospital appointment experienced by me after Choose & Book (“C&B”) had begun in our area (North East London), a few years back, my GP assured me it was broken and said someone would call to fix an appointment irrespective of any ambitions I had to book online for the first time!

For this occasion – an appointment at Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith – the appointment date offered did not work. However the electronic access details to change to a later date came quickly; getting online was a doddle. As it happens, as this was the peak of the pre-Christmas conference season, none of the appointments offered over a six day spread worked for me. Frustratingly, there was no option to put me on hold awaiting a later release of appointments, or to look further ahead than a few days so it was time to call the C&B helpline.

Unbelievably they answered fast and were extremely helpful, suggesting that I book for the latest appointment available. Then two days before my appointment, more dates would have been released so I could move to a later date and all would be well.

There is a story told in defence circles of the programmer involved in the design of a recent torpedo that helpfully built into the system a fail-safe: if ever the torpedo when armed was turned through 180 degrees it should self-destruct as clearly it was faulty. Sadly the programmer did not allow for the torpedo getting stuck when exiting a submarine….

Perhaps it was a close relative of that programmer who thoughtfully inserted a fail-safe into the C&B software that meant that once you passed the date of the originally-offered appointment, your access was denied, even though your appointment was still well in the future. It therefore became imperative to notify the hospital of an impending problem. As it happens they had just sent me a helpful text reminder with an email address to contact. As I was overseas at the time (so a call from a mobile could be pricey especially if I got stuck on hold), off the email went, only to get a reply back saying they’d do their best to answer it in 48 hours! Worse, an email reply the following day had one of the most complex privacy structures I have ever encountered that required a three step process to read the contents. When I finally got into it, the highly secure message was that Charing Cross cannot change C&B appointments, so call the C&B helpline, who, as I was now back in Blighty, again turned out to be very helpful…

A frustrating experience overall as we seem to be so near now to getting this right and being able to transact robustly online without the need to call helplines. Am I being unreasonable in asking for systems where the needs of the patient are clearly thought through…and are joined up?

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