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Life on the phones during COVID-19

When we think of our “frontline” COVID-19 workers, it’s often the doctors, nurses and receptionists who deal directly with patients that come to mind. But for many of our patients, it’s the call-centre staff who are their first point of contact at Local Doctors. 

We spoke to Call Centre Manager Vicky Solomona to find out what it was like for her team during New Zealand’s COVID-19 outbreaks, when the call centre experienced some of its highest ever call volumes. 

“In the blink of an eye, everything changed,” Vicky says, reflecting on New Zealand’s sudden move up alert levels in mid-March. 

“Things were happening so quickly, and a lot of patients were worried because of things they had heard in the media. They were calling us asking what was going on. It was challenging at first, because it was all new to us as well.” 

While fielding calls, the team provided advice on everything from COVID-19 testing locations and clinic hours to what symptoms to look out for. Vicky says that after providing patients with the correct information, their biggest concern was making patients feel calm. 

“The demand from patients was high, because it was scary for them. They were understandably stressed, especially about their little ones. Some of them were out of work and urgently needing certificates to prove they were COVID-free. Others might be panicking because they thought they had it.” 

Vicky says her team dealt with this “very positively”, and were able to stay calm while offering whatever information and advice they could that would make patients feel at ease. 

“We learned that in order to give the best advice, we had to first put ourselves in the patients shoes to understand what they were feeling.”  

Other than that, she says, “We just kept going”. 

“Just as we always do, we tried to get through as many calls as we could and help as many patients as possible. And at the end of the day, there was always a smile on my team member’s faces no matter how tough the calls were