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Br J Gen Pract. 2002 Apr;52(477):306-10.

Telephone consultations to manage requests for same-day appointments: a randomised controlled trial in two practices.

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Lothian Primary Care Research Network, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh.



General practitioners (GPs) in the United Kingdom have recently begun to adopt the use of telephone consultation during daytime surgery as a means of managing demand, particularly requests for same-day appointments. However, it is not known whether the strategy actually reduces GP workload.


To investigate how the use of telephone consultations impacts on the management of requests for same-day appointments, on resource use, indicators of clinical care, and patient perceptions of consultations.


Randomised controlled trial.


All patients (n = 388) seeking same-day appointments in each surgery in two urban practices (total population = 10,420) over a four-week period.


The primary outcome measure was use of doctor time for the index telephone or face-to-face consultation. Secondary outcomes were subsequent use of investigations and of services in the two-week period following consultation, frequency of blood pressure measurement and antibiotic prescriptions, and number of problems considered at consultation. Patient perceptions were measured by the Patient Enablement Instrument (PEI) and reported willingness to use telephone consultations in the future.


Telephone consultations took less time (8.2 minutes versus 6.7 minutes; diff = 1.5, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.6 to 2.4, P = 0.002). Patients consulting by telephone reconsulted the GP more frequently in the two weeks that followed (0.6 consultations versus 0.4 consultations; diff = 0.2, 95% CI = 0.0 to 0.3, P = 0.01). Blood pressure was measured more often in the group of patients managed face-to-face (25/188 [13.3%] versus 12/181 [6.6%]; diff = 6.7%, 95% CI = 0.6% to 12.7%). There was no significant difference in patient perceptions or other secondary outcomes.


Use of telephone consultations for same-day appointments was associated with time saving, and did not result in lower PEI scores. Possibly, however, this short-term saving was offset by higher re-consultation and less use of opportunistic health promotion.

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