Telephone-based health services such as helplines are gauged for their success through an evaluation of their effectiveness and ability to satisfy end users. At its most fundamental, this requires a thorough understanding of the clients - who they are, their information needs, the degree of their satisfaction to the provided information, and how their behaviour is influenced by the service (Freimuth, et al 1989). This literature review is aimed at collecting data on helplines, particularly on how well they have performed in fulfilling the health information needs of their callers. The review will also probe into the current major issues confronting helplines.
This literature review was limited to the analysis of information on the NHS Direct and the NHS 24 only. Evaluative studies, journal articles, reports on patient surveys and news articles were the major sources of information in this literature review. To make it more focused, two questions were identified:
It should be noted that there are limitations to this literature review. Due to time constraints and the limited articles available especially about patient or caller satisfaction, this review may not have covered some other relevant literature on the matter. As such, some important information may have been overlooked.
The proliferation of telephone-based health consultation services can already be seen in different parts of the globe, reflecting the increasing demand for a fast and convenient access to information pertaining to health concerns. In Ontario, Canada for example, a centralized telephone triage service called "Direct Health" is being handled by registered nurses who have acquired at least three to five years of general nursing experience. "Direct Health" currently serves more than 10 million callers. On a similar note, Western Australia has "HealthDirect", which was launched in 1999 as the first large-scale telephone triage service to be established in t Australia. Turner, et al (2002) has initially reported the positive impact of "HealthDirect" on A&E departments as evidenced by the reduction of calls made to these units.
Why do people avail of such services Research has shown that people, especially those who are ill, prefer to learn more about their illness (Cassileth, et al, 1980). This alleviates their anxieties over their condition and satisfies their need to be fully informed especially for chronically-ill patients (Coudeyre, et al 2002).
Established in March 1998, NHS Direct is a nurse-led telephone and Internet-based national helpline accessible to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is basically a source of advice and a wide range of health information ranging from general health concerns to proper assessment of whether the caller's condition would require medical attention. In this context, it is different from other helplines which only give out information to patients who have already been diagnosed by a medical professional.
In 2000, the entire England and Wales have been included in its area of coverage. NHS Direct has been considered the largest provider of telephone-based healthcare advice and, "has been hailed almost universally as a shining example of