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Fam Pract. 2016 Oct;33(5):504-9. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmw048. Epub 2016 Jun 21.

Out-of-hours primary care: a population-based study of the diagnostic scope of telephone contacts.

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The Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
The Research Unit for General Practice, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.



GPs answer all patient calls to the out-of-hours primary care (OOH-PC) services in Denmark. Knowledge is scarce on how the triage-GPs act on the specific reasons for encounter (RFE).


This study aims to describe the RFEs, the applied diagnoses and the severity of health problems presented in calls to the OOH-PC.


This was a 1-year cross-sectional study based on IT-integrated pop-up questionnaires addressing patients' health problems. We included only telephone contacts that were categorized according to their triage outcome as telephone consultations, direct admissions to hospital or referrals for face-to-face contact. The GP-assessed severity was calculated for age groups and types of outcome. We identified the 20 most frequent primary RFEs and diagnoses for each type of contact termination.


We included 7810 telephone calls. Calls considered non-severe made up two-thirds of the calls terminated as telephone consultations, whereas calls considered potentially severe made up the main part of referrals (52.3%). Overall, the 20 most frequent RFEs accounted for 45.2% of all RFEs, fever being the most frequent (10.0%). Some RFEs were terminated mostly as telephone consultations [e.g. insect bite/sting (75.9%)], whereas others were most often referred for a face-to-face contact [i.e. dyspnoea (79.1%)] or directly to hospital [i.e. chest pain (29.4%)].


The distribution of the RFEs on triage outcomes, dominated by more severe diagnoses in referrals indicates a suitable referral level. However, future research on factors related to the demanding task of telephone triage is highly relevant for postdoctoral training of GPs.


After hours; Denmark; diagnosis; primary health care; reason for encounter; severity; triage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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