Significant use of telephone triage in primary care

A SIGNIFICANT percentage of patients accessing primary care services are being triaged by healthcare staff and some without medical backgrounds according to a survey by Campden Health.

The survey of 1,195 GPs, nurses and practice managers found that 28 per cent of practices triaged up to 10 per cent of patients and 9 per cent of practices triaged all their patients. Many practices consider it a convenient and efficient way of providing healthcare with 95 per cent of users rating it as either "moderately" or "extremely" successful.

But the results call into question the general quality of practice triaging with nearly half of providers (48 per cent) having received no training in telephone triage and 13 per cent of respondents reporting that receptionists without a medical background were involved and sometimes without support from a nurse or doctor.

A median of 90 per cent of triaged patients were given face-to-face appointments within five days if needed – "showing that access to clinical care does not seem to have been significantly comprised amidst increasing demands on GPs".

Fiona Dalziel, co-lead of the General Practice Foundation at the RCGP said: "Anecdotally, receptionists are quite good at differentiating urgent from non-urgent situations.

"However, they have had no medical training and are frequently not working to a decision-making protocol and so that leads to increased patient risk."

The authors of the Campden Health report – On the line: Patient access in UK primary care – conclude: "As telephone triaging becomes increasingly integrated in healthcare access, reflecting our era of mobile technology, given the number of factors that can influence effectiveness, it is important that every effort is made to ensure its standardisation and the management of risk."

Campden Health is a healthcare publishing and research company.