A week without landlines or faxes

Doug Hendrie

3/05/2019 1:39:37 PM

When thieves ruined a nearby telephone exchange, staff members at an Adelaide general practice had to rise to a significant challenge.

Practice reception desk
Staff members at Chandlers Hill Surgery had to think on their feet to deal with a major outage.

On a Sunday night earlier this year, thieves came to steal copper wiring from a telephone exchange in Adelaide’s south.
When practice manager Jacky Genesin arrived at Chandlers Hill Surgery the next morning, she quickly found that none of the clinic’s five phone lines were working.
It was the start of more than a week of drama for the busy practice, as staff tried to manage appointments and communication without any landlines or fax, using only mobiles and the internet. 
Ms Genisin’s first action was to call their telco, Telstra, and ask for the earliest possible fix due to the nature of their business.
‘To their credit, Telstra did keep us informed of timelines – but did not offer any solutions other than mobiles,’ she told newsGP
Ms Genesin contacted her IT staff member, who came up with an alternative plan, while Telstra called back later that day to say the damage to the copper wiring meant it would be 10 days before the phone lines were back up and running.  
On the first day, Ms Genesin arranged to have all incoming calls diverted to a mobile number. Meanwhile, doctors and other staff members used their personal mobiles to call patients as needed – after first figuring out how to make their call show up as ‘private number’.
The next morning, Tuesday, the practice’s IT staff member brought in VOIP (voice over internet protocol) internet phones. After five hours’ work installing and setting them up, the clinic again had landlines through telco Maxo Telecommunications.
‘We are a busy practice and so are heavily booked on any given day,’ Ms Genesin said.
‘We have online appointments, so we put a message on [our Facebook page] trying to encourage people to use online appointment bookings. Our online appointments did increase.
‘Some of our local or elderly patients popped in to book appointments. Our patients were very understanding of our situation.’
Ms Genesin said the prolonged outage certainly slowed work down, though staff members took the challenge on board.  
‘The fax machine caused more stress than the phone,’ Ms Genesin said. ‘It made us realise just how many faxes we send and receive, particularly from the public hospital system.
‘We have a number of secure messaging avenues and it is a pity there has not been greater uptake or compatibility [between] these services. It makes the workflow much easier.’
A key issue for the rest of the week was finding ways of obtaining documents. With the lines down, Ms Genesin and other staff tried to use their VOIP phones to receive faxes.
‘Faxes over VOIP are unstable and we could not get this to work,’ she explained. ‘We then went to fax over email. The cost per fax was expensive, but we needed our faxes.’
Even with this workaround up and running, more challenges remained.
Faxes could now come in, but not go out. To tackle this new hurdle, Ms Genesin approached a nearby medical practice that had been unaffected by the outage.
‘Their fax machine was not working efficiently, so we took a spare multifunction fax/printer and installed it on their line,’ she said. ‘It was slower, but we were at least operational.
‘Having a good network you can call on is key. Our preference was to use a medical practice, as they understand the nuances of privacy.’ 
Overall, Chandlers Hill Surgery was able to keep its appointments book full, and Ms Genesin was able to negotiate compensation with Telstra.
‘We lost no business – there was just a lot of stress,’ she said. ‘We will be updating our ERPT (Emergency Response Planning Tool) so we know how to handle [this] next time.’ 
For other practices that may experience such challenges, Ms Genesin said the key is ‘using your networks, having good relationships with suppliers and not being afraid to push to get things done’.
Chandlers Hill Surgery GP Dr Daniel Byrne told newsGP that while his clinic already used the RACGP’s ERPT, ‘we did not have a plan for the total loss of our phones for a week’.
‘Our amazing practice manager, Jacky Genesin, went into overdrive with solutions that just got us through the week,’ he said.

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Dimity Pond   7/05/2019 9:06:32 PM

Our practice recently lost internet access for 3 days due to installation of the NBN. We could not do any Medicare claims over that time. We lost faxes too, and have been told that it will be July before they are reinstated. (It is now May). I think faxes are regarded as outdated technology by much of the world. It is very difficult and stressful for all of us, and I dont' think it should happen because of the NBN.