To gain an in-depth understanding of patient barriers to accessing telephone care, subsequent responses to telephone access issues and recommendations for system improvement within a large integrated health-care system.Study Design
Cross-sectional qualitative focus group study.Methods
One focus group was conducted at each of 17 Veterans Affairs facilities with a total of 123 Veteran users of VA health care. All facilities followed a focus group discussion guide, and purposively sampled patients receiving care at their VA facility in primary and/or specialty care. Focus groups' recordings were sent to the authors' independent evaluation centre, transcribed verbatim and analysed using qualitative content analysis methodology.Results
Participants described many issues with the phone system that resulted in delays to care needs being addressed, including difficulty getting someone to answer the phone, out-dated phone directories, frequent disconnections and incorrect transfers. Participants most frequently responded to access issues by doing nothing or waiting to contact at a later time, or seeking unscheduled in-person care in the emergency department or primary care clinic. Participants offered recommendations for improving telephone care, including access to direct extensions, and upgrades to the telephone system.Conclusions
Telephone access issues could result in increased patient harm and/or increased wait times for in-person primary care or emergency services. Periodic evaluation of telephone systems is necessary to ensure telephone systems adequately meet patient needs while using resources efficiently to optimize the delivery of high quality, safe health care.