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Open Access Research article

Drug prescription by telephone consultation in Danish out-of-hours primary care: a population-based study of frequency and associations with clinical severity and diagnosis

Grete Moth*, Linda Huibers, Morten Bondo Christensen and Peter Vedsted

Author Affiliations

Research Unit for General Practice, Department of Public Health, Aarhus University, Bartholins Alle 2, Aarhus 8000, Denmark

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BMC Family Practice 2014, 15:142  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-15-142

Published: 20 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Danish general practitioners (GPs) answer all calls to the out-of-hours primary care service. About 60% of the calls are terminated on the telephone through provision of medical advice and prescription of medication. Nevertheless, little is known about the prescription patterns of telephone consultations, such as prescription frequency and indications for drug use. Our aim was to examine the characteristics of patients and GPs in telephone consultations resulting in drug prescription.

Methods

The study was based on a 12-month survey on reasons for encounter in the Danish out-of-hours primary care service. A total of 385 GPs (55.5% of all GPs from Central Denmark Region on duty during a year) participated in answering electronic pop-up questionnaires integrated in the electronic patient administration system. The questionnaires contained items on reasons for encounter (e.g. existing chronic disease or new health problem), diagnoses, and GP-assessed severity of the health problem. Data on time of contact, patient gender and age, and prescribed medication (Anatomic Therapeutic Chemical classifications) for telephone consultations were obtained from the patient administration system. Differences in characteristics of patients, general practitioners, and contacts were examined, and associations with prescribed medication were analysed using a multivariate analysis with prevalence ratios.

Results

Medication was prescribed in 19.9% of the included 4,173 telephone consultations; antibiotics and analgesics were prescribed most frequently (10.8% and 2.5%, respectively). GPs tended to assess contacts resulting in antibiotic prescription as more severe than other contacts. For high-severity contacts, there was a lower likelihood for prescription (prevalence ratio = 0.28 (0.16-0.47)). Children aged 0-4 years had lower probability of receiving a prescription compared with patients aged 18-40 years. The prescription rate was highest during the first four hours of the opening hours of the out-of-hours primary care service.

Conclusion

One in five of all telephone consultations involved drug prescription; antibiotics constituted half of these prescriptions. Drug prescription by telephone was less likely to be offered in cases involving ‘severe’ reason for encounter or children. This study calls for further studies of drug prescriptions issued via out-of-hours primary care telephone consultations.

Keywords:
Denmark; General practice; After-hours care; Prescriptions; Telephone