Background: Despite the rapid growth of centralized call centers to provide after-hours triage to patients of multiple providers, little is known about the perceptions of parents regarding this type of care and their compliance with triage disposition recommendations.
Design/methods: From August through September 1999, randomized samples of after-hours calls were selected each day from computerized records at 4 pediatric call centers at 1) Children's Hospital, Denver, Colorado; 2) Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 3) Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio; and 4) All Children's Hospital, St Petersburg, Florida. All participating call centers use the same triage software. Calls were randomly selected to yield at least 250 callers with nonurgent dispositions and 100 with urgent dispositions from each site. Telephone surveys to callers were conducted by an external survey unit 3 to 7 days after the call to the call center.
Results: Surveys were completed for 70.5% of those sampled (N = 1561). Parents indicated they were very satisfied or satisfied with aspects of care received from 92.6% (waiting time) to 99.4% (nurse courteousness) of the time. Satisfaction did not differ by site or by recommended disposition of the index call. Most parents (65.2%) reported no preference about speaking with a physician or nonphysician for after-hours care, whereas 27.7% preferred to speak with a physician. Usually speaking with a physician during office hours (odds ratio [OR]: 1.48), feeling it was important that provider knows child's medical history (OR: 3.47), and respondent having an educational level of college graduate or higher (OR: 1.30) were significant predictors of preferring to speak with a physician. Of the 37.0% (N = 723) of parents who reported any change in their relationship with their primary provider as a result of the after-hours call center, 95.7% (N = 691) assessed the change to be positive. Reported compliance with the call center disposition recommendation was 83.3% for urgent referral, 41.0% for next day, 4.5% for visit at a later time, and 78.2% for home care. The major reason given by parents for noncompliance was reporting that they heard a different disposition (76.9% for urgent to 100% for visit at a later time).
Conclusions: Parental satisfaction with pediatric call centers was uniformly high in 4 different geographic locations, and almost all parents who reported any effect on their relationship with their primary provider assessed it as positive. Compliance with recommendations for urgent evaluation or home care was relatively high but for intermediary dispositions was low. In most cases in which noncompliance occurred, parents reported hearing a different disposition. Additional study is needed to clarify whether noncompliance, especially in cases in which an urgent recommendations was made, is attributable to poor nurse communication of the recommended disposition, parental misinterpretation, or parental difference of opinion.