5 Nov 2012

Hotline fails to reduce hospital numbers

5:56 am on 5 November 2012

A 24 hour medical hotline in Australia is having a minimal impact on reducing the load on hospital emergency departments.

Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday showed more than half the callers to the healthdirect help line attended an emergency department despite a recommendation to the contrary.

The national 24-hour help line, launched in 2006, connects callers with a nurse to assess the patient and provide recommendations. It expanded last year to include GPs.

A study carried out by the Royal Perth Hospital emergency department from August 2008 to April 2009 traced admissions back to the helpline and found 52.4% were patients who attended emergency despite being advised against it.

Dr Joseph Ng and Professor Daniel Fatovich told AAP the cost of running medical hotlines was often justified by promoting a reduction in pressure on emergency departments.

But '' the impact of telephone triage is minimal," they said.

Associate Professor Patrick Bolton from the University of NSW said the study showed that a phone call did not seem to be answering patients' questions about whether a visit to an emergency department was required.