Patients in a Malaga health centre. / SUR

Health centre triage system resolves half of face-to-face consultations without seeing a doctor

The Andalusian Health Service report analysed 80,000 cases in the health districts where the new primary care system was launched, and it showed the triage nurses could deal with 55 per cent of the patients' visits

Héctor Barbotta

The nursing triage system on which the Junta de Andalucía’s new face-to-face primary care system pivots can resolve half of the queries raised by patients without them having to see the doctor, according to a report.

That is the conclusion reached by the Andalusian Health Service (SAS) after analysing the first 80,000 consultations made under this system in the 11 health districts in which it has been implemented since January of this year.

On 1 October, the system was introduced in all the health centres of the 34 SAS districts and currently, these nursing triage consultations exist in about 400 centres, encompassing around 90 per cent of the primary care network.

The statistics show that of the 80,000 consultations made by patients who visited their health centre to be treated without having an appointment, half were resolved by the triage nursing professional.

The SAS has reached an agreement with professional associations that the triage staff can deal with cases including oral thrush, anxiety, contraception, arthralgia (joint pain), diarrhoea, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, cold sores, mild hypoglycemia, urinary discomfort, toothache, styes, stings, burns, allergic reactions, mild trauma and vomiting. However, if they are unable to deal with the problem or feel the need, they can refer the patient to the doctor.

According to the study, the triage nurses resolved 55 per cent of the 80,000 cases; 24 per cent were referred for a nursing consultation by scheduled appointment or other services such as physiotherapy, and 17 per cent, to a family doctor with a scheduled appointment. Four per cent required immediate attention at an emergency department.

Reduce pressure on doctors

The Junta’s Ministry of Health said the system is based on the fact that not all matters that go to a primary care centre require the attention of a doctor, and the system aims to reduce the pressure on these professionals. This strategy, say sources from department, was designed before the pandemic broke out. In fact, it was presented on 20 February, 2020, just days before the state of alarm was declared.

According to SAS data, each family doctor sees an average of 46 patients a day, which means an average time of eight minutes for each one. The Junta's goal is to achieve an average of ten minutes per patient in all primary care consultations.