Background: Danish general practitioners (GPs) answer all calls to the out-of-hours primary care service. About 60% of the calls are terminated on the telephone through provision of medical advice and prescription of medication. Nevertheless, little is known about the prescription patterns of telephone consultations, such as prescription frequency and indications for drug use. Our aim was to examine the characteristics of patients and GPs in telephone consultations resulting in drug prescription.
Methods: The study was based on a 12-month survey on reasons for encounter in the Danish out-of-hours primary care service. A total of 385 GPs (55.5% of all GPs from Central Denmark Region on duty during a year) participated in answering electronic pop-up questionnaires integrated in the electronic patient administration system. The questionnaires contained items on reasons for encounter (e.g. existing chronic disease or new health problem), diagnoses, and GP-assessed severity of the health problem. Data on time of contact, patient gender and age, and prescribed medication (Anatomic Therapeutic Chemical classifications) for telephone consultations were obtained from the patient administration system. Differences in characteristics of patients, general practitioners, and contacts were examined, and associations with prescribed medication were analysed using a multivariate analysis with prevalence ratios.
Results: Medication was prescribed in 19.9% of the included 4,173 telephone consultations; antibiotics and analgesics were prescribed most frequently (10.8% and 2.5%, respectively). GPs tended to assess contacts resulting in antibiotic prescription as more severe than other contacts. For high-severity contacts, there was a lower likelihood for prescription (prevalence ratio = 0.28 (0.16-0.47)). Children aged 0-4 years had lower probability of receiving a prescription compared with patients aged 18-40 years. The prescription rate was highest during the first four hours of the opening hours of the out-of-hours primary care service.
Conclusion: One in five of all telephone consultations involved drug prescription; antibiotics constituted half of these prescriptions. Drug prescription by telephone was less likely to be offered in cases involving 'severe' reason for encounter or children. This study calls for further studies of drug prescriptions issued via out-of-hours primary care telephone consultations.