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Education And Debate Quality improvement report

The “jaundice hotline” for the rapid assessment of patients with jaundice

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 27 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:213
  1. Jonathan Mitchell, specialist registrar (jonmitch{at},
  2. Hyder Hussaini, consultant gastroenterologist,
  3. Dermot McGovern, specialist registrar,
  4. Richard Farrow, consultant radiologist,
  5. Giles Maskell, consultant radiologist,
  6. Harry Dalton, consultant gastroenterologist.
  1. Gastrointestinal Unit, Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro TR1 3LJ
  1. Correspondence to: J Mitchell, Institute of Liver Studies, King's College Hospital, London SE5 9RS
  • Accepted 29 January 2002


Problem: Patients with jaundice require rapid diagnosis and treatment, yet such patients are often subject to delay.

Design: An open referral, rapid access jaundice clinic was established by reorganisation of existing services and without the need for significant extra resources.

Background and setting: A large general hospital in a largely rural and geographically isolated area.

Key measures for improvement: Waiting times for referral, consultation, diagnosis, and treatment, length of stay in hospital, and general practitioners' and patients' satisfaction with the service.

Strategies for change: Referrals were made through a 24 hour telephone answering machine and fax line. Initial assessment of patients was carried out by junior staff as part of their working week. Dedicated ultrasonography appointments were made available.

Effects of change: Of 107 patients seen in the first year of the service, 62 had biliary obstruction. The mean time between referral and consultation was 2.5 days. Patients who went on to endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography waited 5.7 days on average. The mean length of stay in hospital in the 69 patients who were admitted was 6.1 days, compared with 11.5 days in 1996,as shown by audit data. Nearly all the 36 general practices (95%) and the 30 consecutive patients (97%) that were surveyed rated the service as above average or excellent.

Lessons learnt: An open referral, rapid access service for patients with jaundice can shorten time to diagnosis and treatment and length of stay in hospital. These improvements can occur through the reorganisation of existing services and with minimal extra cost.


  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Funding None.

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