A survey of 1,150 parents attending one of four Victorian hospital EDs with a sick or injured child has revealed only one in five contacted the service, which was established eight years ago in part to help manage demand for healthcare services.
More than half who did not call thought the service would not be helpful, and 16 per cent were unaware it even existed.
The findings, released today in Emergency Medicine Australasia, are part of an ongoing research collaboration between University of Melbourne, The Royal Children’s Hospital and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to better understand the underlying causes of sustained growth in paediatric ED presentation numbers across the State.
Lead researcher Professor Gary Freed said growth in the number of children being taken to ED with lower urgency conditions, already almost 100,000 per year in Victoria alone, was putting unsustainable pressure on health services and contributing to long wait times for children and their families.
“Patient telephone triage has been cited as a strategy for helping to manage this growing paediatric demand by providing reassurance or redirecting callers, where appropriate, to primary healthcare providers, but this research suggests some changes in the system are needed,” Professor Freed said.
“Of the 230 parents in our study who had contacted Nurse on Call, 70 per cent had been advised to take their child to ED for a condition then triaged as lower urgency at the ED. A further 22 per cent went to ED because they remained worried about their child after the call.”
Professor Freed said that a previous audit of the service showed Nurse On Call received approximately 1,000 calls per day, and it was important to note the research captured only those parents who attended ED, leaving the percentage of families who sourced alternative healthcare services as a result of speaking to a Nurse On Call operator unknown.
“What these findings tell us is that if we are going to effectively tackle the challenge of growing ED presentations for lower urgency cases, we need data to understand the situation and to inform evidence based solutions,” Professor Freed said.
Professor Freed said possible responses to the findings included further research to track outcomes linked to Nurse On Call contacts, and promotional campaigns to increase awareness of Nurse on Call, particularly at EDs and GP clinics.
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