Background: Several models of GP out-of-hours provision exist in the UK but there is little detail about their effectiveness to meet users' needs and expectations.
Aim: To explore users' needs, expectations, and experiences of out-of-hours care, and to identify proposals for service redesign.
Setting: Service providers in urban (GP cooperative), mixed (hospital based), rural (private) locations in Wales.
Participants: Sixty recent service users or carers (20 in each location).
Method: Semi-structured telephone interviews; thematic analysis.
Results: Users' concerns were generally consistent across the three different services. Efficiency was a major concern, with repetitive triage procedures and long time delays at various stages in the process being problematic. Access to a doctor when required was also important to users, who perceived an obstructive gatekeeping function of preliminary contacts. Expectations moderated the relationship between user concerns and satisfaction. Where expectations of outcome were unfulfilled, participants reported greater likelihood of reconsulting with the same or alternative services for the same illness episode. Accurate expectations concerning contacts with the next administrative, nursing, or medical staff professional were managed by appropriate information provision.
Conclusion: Users require more streamlined and flexible triage systems. Their expectations need to be understood and incorporated into how services advise and provide services for users, and actively managed to meet the aims of both enhancing satisfaction and enabling users to cope with their condition. Better information and education about services are needed if users are to derive the greatest benefit and satisfaction. This may influence choices about using the most appropriate forms of care.