BMC Health Serv Res. 2023 Jan 3;23(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s12913-022-08994-0.
BACKGROUND: Telephone triage has been established in many countries as a response to the challenge of non-urgent use of out-of-hours primary care services. However, limited evidence is available regarding the effect of training interventions on clinicians’ telephone consultation skills and patient outcomes.
METHODS: This was a pragmatic randomized controlled educational intervention for telephone triage nurses in 59 Norwegian out-of-hours general practitioners’ (GPs) cooperatives, serving 59% of the Norwegian population. Computer-generated randomization was performed at the level of out-of-hours GP cooperatives, stratified by the population size. Thirty-two out-of-hours GP cooperatives were randomized to intervention. One cooperative did not accept the invitation to participate in the educational programme, leaving 31 cooperatives in the intervention group. The intervention comprised a 90-minute e-learning course and 90-minute group discussion about respiratory tract infections (RTIs), telephone communication skills and local practices. We aimed to assess the effect of the intervention on out-of-hours attendance and describe the distribution of RTIs between out-of-hours GP cooperatives and list-holding GPs. The outcome was the difference in the number of doctor’s consultations per 1000 inhabitants between the intervention and control groups during the winter months before and after the intervention. A negative binomial regression model was used for the statistical analyses. The model was adjusted for the number of nurses who had participated in the e-learning course, the population size and patients’ age groups, with the out-of-hours GP cooperatives defined as clusters.
RESULTS: The regression showed that the intervention did not change the number of consultations for RTIs between the two groups of out-of-hours GP cooperatives (incidence rate ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.91-1.07). The winter season’s out-of-hours patient population was younger and had a higher proportion of RTIs than the patient population in the list-holding GP offices. Laryngitis, sore throat, and pneumonia were the most common diagnoses during the out-of-hours primary care service.
CONCLUSIONS: The intervention did not influence the out-of-hours attendance. This finding may be due to the intervention’s limited scope and the intention-to-treat design. Changing a population’s out-of-hours attendance is complicated and needs to be targeted at several organizational levels.