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Primary care phone triage does not reduce workload

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Practice nurses' workloads are not reduced by primary care phone triage, a study published in The Lancet has shown.

The research, conducted by a team from the University of Exeter Medical School, concluded that patients who receive a telephone call-back from a doctor or a nurse following their request for a same day consultation are 33 per cent more likely to require further support or advice within 28 days, compared to patients who see a practice nurse or doctor in person. It also showed that phone triage was no more cost effective than face-to-face appointments.

Rather than decrease work load, practices offering nurse triage saw an increase of 48 per cent in the total number of contacts with patients who had requested a same day appointment compared to patients seen under usual care.

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: ‘Up to now, it has been widely thought that introducing a triage system might be an efficient way of providing same-day access to healthcare advice. However, our study suggests that introducing triage may not represent the most efficient use of doctor or nurse time. Patients who receive over-the-phone support are more likely to seek follow-up advice, meaning that the workload is only redistributed, while the costs are the same.'

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