General practice is at the forefront of the National Health Service, but is currently being overwhelmed by ever-increasing patient demand and financial constraints. Telephone consultations (TCs) have been used as a method to ease pressure on general practice. Many of these consultations are booked with general practioners (GPs), despite occasions when the patient could have either been signposted to self-help or offered an alternative service. This quality improvement project (QIP) aimed to evaluate the nature of TCs undertaken by GPs at our two practices; and whether the patients’ needs could have adequately been met without the involvement of a GP. Consultations where this was the case were deemed ‘possibly avoidable’, and those where involvement with a GP was the best option have been termed ‘essential’. A retrospective analysis was undertaken to establish a baseline figure for the proportion of possibly avoidable TCs in two practices. A new intervention was then introduced, with reception staff following a set of protocols when booking in patients. Patients who did not require a GP to deal with their query were actively signposted by reception staff to other allied healthcare professionals, non-medical staff or an alternative service at the time of booking their appointment. Two practices were involved in the study. After 2 Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycles, the proportion of essential consultations taking place at both practices increased from 28.6% and 27.3% at baseline, to 82.6% and 71.4%, respectively. A lower number of possibly avoidable TCs equates to more time for essential TCs and greater value for money for the practice. Patient access to care is also improved, with patients directed to alternative and often quicker services which still meet their needs adequately. With the current system of primary care unable to cope with the demands it faces, interventions such as active signposting provide value for both GP practices and patients alike.
- general practice
- patient satisfaction
- quality improvement
- lean management
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Contributors MAT was responsible for the original concept and design of the study, and played a primary role in developing and applying the implementation. FS and BS were involved in data collection and analysis, as well as drafting the manuscript which was revised by MAT.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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