The Promise of Telephone Triage and Physician Locator Services

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorTelephone triage is a great solution that meets the healthcare needs for many patients. However, though I write about telephone triage, I have no first-hand experience. Alas, there are no telephone triage services available to me—or at least none that I’m aware of. I wish there were.

It may shock you to know I don’t have a primary care physician. But it’s not for a lack of trying. Here’s the short version: Years ago I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment when I was down with a cold. The doctor wouldn’t see me because I hadn’t recently seen him when I was well. When I was better I called to schedule an annual check-up. They declined. My paper records were in storage and apparently it was too much hassle to retrieve them. I suggested they treat me as a new patient, but my doctor wasn’t accepting new patients. Apparently he had fired me. That was ten years ago. I haven’t had a primary care physician since.

Over the past five years I’ve required medical attention four times. Once was a trip to ER for stitches. The other three times were to urgent care to snag a prescription for antibiotics. On my last visit they encouraged me to find a primary care physician. I agreed. After recovering, I went online searching for a conveniently-located doctor.

I ended up at the website of a large healthcare provider. I entered my ZIP code and asked for doctors nearby. The closest match was .06 miles away. That’s 317 feet, but this doctor was actually over twenty miles away, a thirty-five-minute drive. I checked the next fifteen providers, all of whom were reported to be within five miles. None were. I gave up.

I wish I could call a physician locator service, but there aren’t any in my area, at least none that I know of.

I’m convinced healthcare call centers can fill a vital need in the provision of healthcare services, both telephone triage and doctor locator services. If only they were available in my area. Hopefully the reality of what is will soon catch up with the potential of what can be. Until then I hope I don’t get sick.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.