Nurse-led Telephone-Advice Lines

Published in: The Lancet, v. 354, no. 9173, July 10, 1999

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1999

by Paul G. Shekelle, Martin Roland

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Australia is following North America, the United Kingdom and other developed countries in promoting the use of nurse-led telephone advice services, where nurses follow computer-driven protocols to give advice about a wide range of problems, most of which relate to acute minor illness. Most callers were young adults or parents calling on behalf of children. There is some concern that the increasing use of telephone advice may disadvantage elderly and ethnic people, who find it less easy to use the telephone. Healthcare planners are clearly interested in whether these new services will reduce the demand for existing healthcare services, as well as questioning whether such services are safe. Further studies of safety and consistency of advice are needed and should include evaluating telephone advice given by both nurses and doctors. Overall, nurse-led telephone advice lines should be welcomed cautiously. Patients use them, and they are probably safe, but it is not yet known if they will reduce demand for existing services, or if they will merely provide patients with additional, albeit valued, service.

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