Background: Telephone helplines are useful for improving patients' access to healthcare services and reducing the need for frequent face-to-face contact with healthcare professionals. Little is known about how people who phone a helpline perceive the encounter.
Objectives: The aims of the present study were to describe the variation in how callers perceive their encounter with a rheumatology telephone helpline.
Methods: The study had a descriptive, qualitative design and used a phenomenographic approach, comprising 27 semi-structured telephone interviews with callers to Rheuma Direct, a rheumatology telephone helpline with specially trained nurses. The callers comprised 22 women and five men, aged 22-89 years (mean 54 years).
Results: The callers phoned Rheuma Direct when they had problems obtaining answers to questions on the internet or from healthcare professionals. Three descriptive categories emerged: constructive dialogue, specialized competence and applicability. The callers perceived that it was a constructive dialogue when they were able to discuss their concerns with someone, received emotional support, felt reassured and were satisfied with the information provided. They perceived specialized competence when the nurses were experienced and skilful, the advice provided complemented previously received information and when they had more knowledge after the call. The callers perceived that Rheuma Direct had applicability because it was easy to access and they could make different choices before, during and after the telephone call.
Conclusions: Callers to a rheumatology telephone helpline perceived it as a valuable complement to other sources of information, and felt that it could provide them with the tools to manage their disease better, as well as future contacts with healthcare professionals.
Keywords: nurse; qualitative research; rheumatology.
© 2018 The Authors Musculoskeletal Care published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.