Telephone consultations for general practice: a systematic review

Syst Rev. 2017 Jul 3;6(1):128. doi: 10.1186/s13643-017-0529-0.


Background: The use of information technology, including internet- and telephone-based resources, is becoming an alternative and supporting method of providing many forms of services in a healthcare and health management setting. Telephone consultations provide a promising alternative and supporting service for face-to-face general practice care. The aim of this review is to utilize a systematic review to collate evidence on the use of telephone consultation as an alternative to face-to-face general practice visits.

Methods: A systematic search of MEDLINE, CINAHL, The Cochrane Library, and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform was performed using the search terms for the intervention (telephone consultation) and the comparator (general practice). Systematic reviews and randomized control trials that examined telephone consultation compared to normal face-to-face consultation in general practice were included in this review. Papers were reviewed, assessed for quality (Cochrane Collaboration's 'Risk of bias' tool) and data extracted and analysed.

Results: Two systematic reviews and one RCT were identified and included in the analysis. The RCT (N = 388) was of patients requesting same-day appointments from two general practices and patients were randomized to a same-day face-to-face appointment or a telephone call back consultation. There was a reduction in the time spent on consultations in the telephone group (1.5 min (0.6 to 2.4)) and patients in the telephone arm had 0.2 (0 to 0.3) more follow-up consultations than the face-to-face group. One systematic review focused on telephone consultation and triage on healthcare use, and included one RCT and one other observational study that examined telephone consultations. The other systematic review focused on patient access and included one RCT and four observational studies that examined telephone consultations. Both systematic reviews provided narrative interpretations of the evidence and concluded that telephone consultations provided an appropriate alternative to telephone consultations and reduced practice work load.

Conclusion: There is a lack of high level evidence for telephone consultations in a GP setting; however, current evidence suggests that telephone consultations as an alternative to face-to-face general practice consultations offers an appropriate option in certain settings.

Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD42015025225.

Keywords: General practice; Teleconsult; Telehealth; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • General Practice / methods*
  • Humans
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Telemedicine
  • Telephone / statistics & numerical data*