Letters

Follow up by telephone

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.310.6981.737b (Published 18 March 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:737

Genitourinary medicine clinic gives results by telephone

  1. A J Robinson,
  2. C Shergold,
  3. E Allason-Jones,
  4. P French
  1. Consultant Information manager Clinical director Consultant Department of Genitourinary Medicine/HIV/AIDS, Mortimer Market Centre, London WC1E 6AU

    EDITOR,—Jammi Nagaraj Rao discusses using the telephone to follow up patients.1 Genitourinary medicine clinics provide open access. So that we can provide the necessary appointments for patients with problems suggesting a sexually transmitted disease within an acceptable time limit,2 giving patients the results of laboratory tests by telephone is an essential part of the service.

    In our clinic from September to November 1994 there were 1385 telephone follow up calls, which accounted for 13.2% (1385/10 528) of “attendances.” Doctors select patients who are unlikely to have an infection, do not require further tests, and can understand English to make a telephone appointment for a specific day to get their results. A list is generated so that case notes and results are available the day before the patient is expected to ring. Patients telephone on their allotted day and are asked to quote their clinic number and date of birth. To safeguard confidentiality, results are not given to any other person unless permission from the patient is recorded in the notes.

    This service requires resources. The telephone system must have enough lines designated for giving results and should allow calls to be diverted easily to other members of staff. Receptionists are required for the administrative tasks, and trained staff must be available at all times when patients telephone for their results. Nurses are nominated to deal with telephone follow up and may spend considerable time explaining results and updating notes. Therefore telephone appointments must be regarded as part of the workload. Problems can arise with such a service. Patients may be unable to get through on the telephone. They may justifiably become irritated if kept waiting, especially if they are telephoning from a call box or abroad and incur unnecessary expense. A policy must be agreed for patients who fail to telephone for results. Finally, the sifting out of patients who are quick and easy to deal with means that only patients with more complicated problems attend for follow up, which increases the consultation time.

    Overall our patients appreciate the service. Most of them are young, fit, and in employment, and some are prepared to travel long distances to use the confidential service provided by a genitourinary medicine clinic. Reducing the number of visits to the clinic saves them time and money. Furthermore, if follow up by telephone was unavailable resources would have to be found to see these patients in the clinic. We think that more clinicians and patients could benefit from our experience.

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