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Effect of self-triage on waiting times at a walk-in sexual health clinic
  1. Samantha Hitchings, MRCOG, MFSRH, Specialist Registrar and
  2. Janet Barter, FRCOG, FFSRH, Consultant
  1. Department of Reproductive and Sexual Health, Enfield Primary Care Trust, Enfield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Samantha Hitchings, Town Clinic, 33 Eaton Road, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 1NJ, UK. E-mail: samantha.hitchings{at}enfield.nhs.uk

Abstract

Background and methodology Lengthy waiting times can be a major problem in walk-in sexual health clinics. They are stressful for both patients and staff and may lead to clients with significant health issues leaving the department before being seen by a clinician. A self-triage system may help reduce waiting times and duplication of work, improve patient pathways and decrease wasted visits. This paper describes implementation of a self-triage system in two busy sexual and reproductive health clinics. Patients were asked to complete a self-assessment form on registration to determine the reason for attendance. This then enabled patients to be directed to the most appropriate specialist or clinical service. The benefits of this approach were determined by measuring patient waiting times, reduction in unnecessary specialist review together with patient acceptability as tested by a patient satisfaction survey. The ease of comprehension of the triage form was also assessed by an independent readers' panel.

Results A total of 193 patients were recruited over a 4-month period from November 2004 to February 2005. Patients from the November and December clinics were assigned to the 'traditional treatment' arm, with patients at subsequent clinics being assigned to the 'self-triage' system. Waiting times were collected by the receptionist and clinic staff. Ninety six patients followed the traditional route, 97 the new self-triage system. Sixty-nine (35.8%) patients completed the satisfaction survey. The self-triage system significantly reduced waiting time from 40 (22, 60) to 23 (10, 40) minutes [results expressed as median (interquartile range)]. There was a non-significant reduction in the proportion of patients seeing two clinicians from 21% to 13% (p = 0.17). Satisfaction levels were not significantly altered (95% compared to 97% satisfied, p = 0.64). The readers' panel found the triage form both easy to understand and to complete.

Conclusions Self-triage can effectively reduce clinic waiting times and allow better organisation of resources. Urgent cases can be prioritised. This process appears to be acceptable to and understandable by patients.

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