GP phone consultations do not save cost or time

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New research has indicated that telephone consultation with GPs do not save time or money.

The study which was undertaken by the University of Exeter Medical School found that practices which offer patients a fast call back saw an increase of 33% in their workload linked to those patients, along with a 48% increase after a call back from a nurse.

The lead author of the study, Professor John Campbell, said that it was believed that the introduction of a triage system may be the answer to offering same-day healthcare advice access. However, it has been found that this may not be the most efficient use of the doctor or nurse’s time. Patients who make use of this facility generally opt for follow-up advice, which means the workload is simply redistributed, but the costs remain the same.

Some organisations have claimed that this system will reduce pressure on A&E hospital departments, however, with demands for appointments increasing, and budgets decreasing, the system is not effective. It needs to be introduced over a period of time and should be linked to an increase in the numbers of available doctors.

The trial period involved 20000 patients and 42 surgeries across England.

At the Hazelwood Practice in Coleshill, Warwickshire, Dr Trisha Wildbore has been offering call-backs for the past three years and most of the surgery workload is managed in this fashion. She said that they were hoping that their workload would be reduced by the introduction of the system, but this has not happened since the impact has been minimal. However, the surgery is better able to manage their workload, as they are able to arrange appointments for patients who require it at suitable times for both the patient and the surgery, which allows for more effective workload distribution across the week.

Some doctors have stated that the answer to an effective system is that patients should understand that a call is not a hindrance to them seeing the doctor. A patient, Andrew Buck, has used this system several times and said that it allows you to speak to a doctor without the wait of one to two weeks for an appointment. You are able to speak to your main point of contact immediately and obtain reassurance about whether your condition is serious and what to do next.

The British Medical Association is concerned that call backs may leave patients satisfied, but could lead to extra demand.

The deputy chair of the BMA’s GP committee, Dr Richard Vautrey, said that where the system is being used, they have received reports that it generates additional demand as some patients are using the system more frequently that they would normally have contacted the surgery, while other patients may have self-cared and not contacted the health service at all.

Image Credit: Tim Parkinson

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Robert Wiltshire

Robert is a part-time writer and enjoys screen writing when his schedule allows. A keen writer, Robert graduated in 2002 from Warwick University with a 2:1 in Creative Writing. Hobbies include; Mountain Biking, Keeping Fit and Cooking

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