GEORGE TOWN: Hospitals must stop using automated phone systems to answer calls, Penang Consumer Protection Association president K. Koris Atan said.
"Hospitals are for emergency purposes and should have operators instead of an automated phone system answering calls. Can you imagine what it feels like to not be able to get through during an emergency? The anxiety is simply dreadful. Quick response makes all the difference.
"Service providers must have a social responsibility and not give the public 'a merry-go-round' - press one for English, two for Bahasa Malaysia. It goes on and on," Koris said yesterday.
He said he had received a complaint that a private hospital's telephone operator had failed to answer despite being called eight times.
"Each time, a recorded message asked the caller to press the extension number. How would the caller know the doctor's extension number?" Koris asked.
Penang Health Association chairman Datuk Dr Chan Kok Ewe said telephone operators must not take too long to answer calls.
"It is their responsibility to answer calls. Normally, if the telephone operator is busy on the line, it would take one to two minutes before the caller can talk to the operator.
"I have experienced it myself and it took me about one to two minutes to speak to a telephone operator at Island Hospital Penang," said Dr Chan, who is also Island Hospital Penang chief executive officer.
"Those who know the extension number can dial it.
"However, that applies more to internal staff of the hospital.
"Our hospital, however, has a 24-hour telephone operator service," he said yesterday.
On Sunday, Koris had asked government agencies and companies to install more user-friendly call systems rather than automated phone systems, which he said were too complicated, especially for senior citizens.
Penang Senior Citizens Association president Lawrence Cheah described the automated phone system process as stressful.