OBJECTIVE: An audit of use of the telephone Helpline in the accident and emergency (A&E) department was conducted to establish the type of call, time, by whom the calls were made, appropriateness of advice given, and whether callers attended or not as advised, and also to obtain feedback from callers as to the degree of satisfaction with the advice given. METHODS: All calls over a four week period were included in the study. The information logged comprised name, age, telephone number, date and time of call, nature of query, advice given, and name of advisor. Callers whose telephone number had been noted were contacted for feedback. RESULTS: There were 300 calls over the four week period, and 150 callers were available for feedback. Most calls were received between 12.00 and 20.00 hours. The majority of callers were parent or self, 52% of calls were for problems concerning adults, and 40% for children; no age was recorded in 8%. Nursing staff answered 90.7% of the calls. Queries were wide ranging but commonly involved open and closed wounds and head injuries, with 29.3% being advised to attend A&E, 32.3% to ring or see their GP, and 38.4% were reassured or given other advice; 4% of callers attended A&E despite being advised otherwise, 97% were judged to have received appropriate advice, and 91.3% of callers were satisfied with the advice given. CONCLUSION: The Helpline has proved of benefit to the public. It is necessary and important to have protocols for common problems and to document all details carefully. It is also necessary that nursing staff are trained in handling the telephone queries and using the protocols. The use of a PC based system has improved data collection and also allows immediate access to protocols.
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