OBJECTIVES: Members of the public often telephone general practice, accident and emergency departments, and other health services for advice. However, satisfaction related to telephone consultation has received relatively little attention. This study aimed to describe the views of callers to an accident and emergency department who expressed any element of dissatisfaction about their telephone consultation. This was part of a larger study intended to help identify areas for service improvement. METHODS: A telephone consultation record form was used to document details of advice calls made to the accident and emergency department over a three month period. Callers who provided a telephone number were followed up within 72 hours. The interviews were tape recorded, transcribed, and explored using content analysis for emerging themes related to dissatisfaction. RESULTS: 203 callers were contacted within 72 hours of their call, of which 197 (97%) agreed to participate. 11 (5.6%) expressed global dissatisfaction, and a further 34 (17%) callers expressed at least one element of dissatisfaction at some point during the interview. Sources of dissatisfaction fell into four broad categories, each of which included more specific aspects of dissatisfaction: 36 (80%) callers were dissatisfied with advice issues, 31 (69%) with process aspects, such as the interpersonal skills of the staff member who took the call, 23 (51%) due to lack of acknowledgement of physical or emotional needs, and 11 (24%) due to access problems. CONCLUSIONS: This study supports the findings of other work and identifies three issues for particular consideration in improving the practice of telephone consultation: (a) training of health professionals at both undergraduate and specialist levels should cover telephone communication skills, (b) specific attention needs to be given to ensuring that the information and advice given over the phone is reliable and consistent, and (c) organisational change is required, including the introduction of departmental policies for telephone advice which should become the subject of regular audit.
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