BMA News: Phone triage means less time wasted

Prize Comment featured in BMA News 23/5/15, I quote in full:

“I agree with Syed Husain and Milan Dagli who wrote about unnecessary GP appointments, whether doctor- or patient-initiated. (“Making workload worse?” and “Time for patients to stop taking the NHS for granted” 25 April 2015, page 7).

I work in a surgery where we operate telephone triage.  All requests for appointments, tests etc go on a list, with brief indications of the problems.

We then call the patients.  We can use the brief indications, along with other knowledge in the records, to prioritise the calls.  We find that 50-70 per cent of problems can be dealt with on the telephone.

I would not have seen Dr Husain regarding the optician’s letter; I would have ascertained that a referral was actually wanted, and to which provider I should send it.

In this way the patients who most need to be seen are given priority and others are fitted around.

There is still more work than can be done in the time available.  The UK has few doctors compared to other EU countries (we rank 24th out of 27), yet the Government makes peculiarly high demands on family doctors to achieve a range of performance indicators.

At least with telephone triage we have some choices about how we spend our time, and we feel that less time is wasted.”

Dr Penelope Jarrett is a London GP at the Corner Surgery, one of the pioneers of the system.

We couldn’t agree more, of course, and have been saying so for four years.  Some of the earliest pioneers have been saying so for 15 years.  Delighted that BMA News has now got with the programme.

To the point that “There is still more work than can be done in the time available”, many GPs would agree, especially in high demand areas (mostly linked with deprivation).  That’s why we have moved on with the askmyGP service, whereby patients start online and don’t all need to be phoned.  The GP can triage from the submitted history, produced in the patient’s own time, into a face to face, phone or message response.  This is the further step change we need in GP efficiency and therefore time saving.

Dr Sara Cowell

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