Pediatric after-hours telephone triage by call center nurses is an important part of pediatric health care provision.
To use a computerized database including the after-hours telephone calls for 90% of the pediatricians in Colorado to examine: (1) the epidemiology of after-hours calls during a 1-year period including the volume, seasonality, and timing of after-hours calls, the age of the patients, the presenting complaint, the triage dispositions, and mean rates of calls per pediatrician; (2) the process of care measures at the call center, including waiting times for nurse telephone call-backs, the length of triage calls, and how these factors varied by season; and (3) the frequency and content of calls requesting information but not requiring triage.
Setting and Participants
All telephone calls from the After-Hours Telephone Care Program, Denver, Colo, received between June 21, 1999, and June 20, 2000, were retrieved from a computerized database and categorized by age, season, triage disposition, and algorithm.
Main Outcome Measures
The volume, seasonality, timing, age distribution, algorithms used, and triage dispositions of after-hours calls. The reasons for calls requesting information.
During the 1-year period 141 922 calls were returned by the call center. Of the total calls, 88% were for a clinical illness; 5%, for information or advice; 5%, for calls in which the parent could not be recontacted; 1%, for duplicate calls, and 1%, for miscellaneous reasons. Listed in rank order for the year, the 10 most common algorithms used for illness calls were vomiting, colds, cough, earache, sore throat, fever, diarrhea, croup, head trauma, and eye infection. Of illness calls, 21% of callers were told to go in for urgent evaluation, 30% were told to contact their primary care physician either the next day or at a later time, 45% were given home care instructions, and 4% were referred to call the on-call physician.
This study describes the epidemiology of after-hours telephone calls regarding children in 90% of the private practices in Colorado. Data provided are useful in guiding the planning of health care provision, providing staffing of after-hours facilities, and planning for the educational training of telephone care staff. They also highlight opportunities for patient education that might decrease unnecessary after-hours calls.