OBJECTIVE: To compare the workloads of general practitioners and nurses and costs of patient care for nurse telephone triage and standard management of requests for same day appointments in routine primary care. DESIGN: Multiple interrupted time series using sequential introduction of experimental triage system in different sites with repeated measures taken one week in every month for 12 months. SETTING: Three primary care sites in York. Participants: 4685 patients: 1233 in standard management, 3452 in the triage system. All patients requesting same day appointments during study weeks were included in the trial. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Type of consultation (telephone, appointment, or visit), time taken for consultation, presenting complaints, use of services during the month after same day contact, and costs of drugs and same day, follow up, and emergency care. RESULTS: The triage system reduced appointments with general practitioner by 29-44%. Compared with standard management, the triage system had a relative risk (95% confidence interval) of 0.85 (0.72 to 1.00) for home visits, 2.41 (2.08 to 2.80) for telephone care, and 3.79 (3.21 to 4.48) for nurse care. Mean overall time in the triage system was 1.70 minutes longer, but mean general practitioner time was reduced by 2.45 minutes. Routine appointments and nursing time increased, as did out of hours and accident and emergency attendance. Costs did not differ significantly between standard management and triage: mean difference £1.48 more per patient for triage (95% confidence interval -0.19 to 3.15). CONCLUSIONS: Triage reduced the number of same day appointments with general practitioners but resulted in busier routine surgeries, increased nursing time, and a small but significant increase in out of hours and accident and emergency attendance. Consequently, triage does not reduce overall costs per patient for managing same day appointments
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