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The OPTEL Study

The experience and perceptions of older people, their carers and their general practice teams in using a ‘telephone first’ approach for access to appointments (OPTEL): a qualitative study

‘Telephone first’ is a relatively new way for a patient to make an appointment with a doctor at their surgery. With ‘telephone first’ when you telephone to make an appointment the receptionist gets a doctor to call you back that day.

The doctor then either deals with your problem over the telephone or asks you to come in and see them. Many GP practices were starting to use ‘telephone first’, and since the onset of COVID19 this number has substantially increased. At the moment we do not know much about how well ‘telephone first’ works. Some people think it helps to deal with lots of demand for appointments. Others think it makes it easier to get an appointment with a doctor. So far not many people have researched the effect it might have on patients.

Older people are the group of adults who are most likely to need to make an appointment with a doctor. They often have lots of health conditions and needs, making them an important group to investigate. We will recruit eight general practices that are using ‘telephone first.’ We will find patients and/or their carers in these general practices who are aged 65 or older. The study objectives are to:

  • Explore the experiences and perceptions of older people and where relevant their carers, in using the ‘telephone first’ approach, using semi-structured interviews.
  • Explore the experiences and perceptions of general practice staff in delivering ‘telephone first’ to older people and their carers, using focus groups.
  • Analyse data, synthesising data from the semi-structured interviews and focus groups together to outline ways of responding to the needs of older people and their carers when using a ‘telephone first’ approach.
  • Hold a stakeholder workshop to contextualise the findings and develop a series of summary sheets and recommendations for different stakeholder groups.

Funded by:

NIHR Research for Research Benefit

Research team members:

Associate Professor Helen Atherton - Principle Investigator

Professor Jeremy Dale, Dr Carol Bryce, Dr Jo Fleming, Dr Jo Parsons

Dr Jenny Newbold, RAND Europe Community Interest Company

Mrs Gillian Grason Smith, Lay Co-applicant


RAND Europe - co-applicant


1st August 2020 – 31st July 2021

Enquiries: Dr Joanna Fleming

j dot l dot m dot fleming at warwick dot ac dot uk