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Health Call Centres

Country: 
Australia
Partner Institute: 
Centre for Health, Economics Research and Evaluation (CHERE), University of Technology, Sydney
Survey no: 
(2)2003
Author(s): 
Rob Anderson, Marion Haas
Health Policy Issues: 
New Technology, Access, Responsiveness
Current Process Stages
Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? yes no no no no no no

Abstract

The Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing is currently exploring the possible development of a national policy for ?health call centres? (i.e. the provision of telephone-based health and health care advice and triage services).

Purpose of health policy or idea

In the second half of 2002 the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing commissioned two consultancy projects to support the possible development of a national policy for "health call centres" (i.e. broadly, the provision of telephone-based health and health care advice and triage services).

One of the projects (the meta-evaluation project) is to produce a discussion paper that: systematically reviews national and international literature on health call centres (HCCs); analyses the impact and value of HCCs; develops a business case for HCCs; presents the concerns/questions and preconceptions of key professional, industry, government and consumer stakeholders.  The other project is to develop some options for guidelines and frameworks for developing clinical and operational standards for HCCs (the standards development project).

Neither project has yet reported publicly.  The standards development project has reported internally (to the Department of Health and Ageing) during 2003, and is currently with the "HCC Jurisdictions Group" (a steering group with representatives from the Commonwealth and all the States and Territories).  The meta-evaluation project has not reported yet.

Main points

Main objectives

To explore the possible development of a national policy for "health call centres", and develop clinical and operational standards for such services.

Type of incentives

None as yet; although the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing jointly funds (with the WA government) the existing nurse-based telephone triage service in Western Australia (HealthDirect).

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Characteristics of this policy

Degree of Innovation traditional rather traditional innovative
Degree of Controversy consensual rather consensual highly controversial
Structural or Systemic Impact marginal rather marginal fundamental
Public Visibility very low very low very high
Transferability strongly system-dependent rather system-neutral system-neutral

Too early to tell.

Political and economic background

In the 2001/02 Federal Budget, $6.2 million over four years was allocated to supporting the development of a national policy for health call centres (HCC).  This work is part of the broader initiatives of the Federal (or 'Commonwealth') Government to develop After Hours Care and Emergency Primary Medical Care.

The possibility of an Australia-wide policy for health call centres should also be viewed in the context of the recent growth of a range of health call services in Australia (e.g. since May 1999 there has been a state-wide telephone triage service in Western Australia, HealthDirect, and also recently announced (June 2003) plans for one in South Australia; for some years there have also been a number of more local telephone-based advice services focussed on specific needs, such as nursing mothers, or children).

The rapid, and apparently successful, development of NHS Direct - a national telephone helpline for health and health services advice - in the British NHS, was probably a catalyst to assessing the need for a national policy.

Purpose and process analysis

Current Process Stages

Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? yes no no no no no no

Origins of health policy idea

The policy idea of using call centres staffed by trained health professionals as a demand management and referral tool (i.e. telephone triage) clearly has origins in NHS Direct (the national health and health care 'telephone helpline' in the British NHS) and in the USA, where health maintenance organisations have been using telephones as a demand management tool for more than a decade.  It has also already been implemented at the state level in Western Australia.

Approach of idea

The approach of the idea is described as:
renewed: National/state-wide telephone advice lines have most visibly been developed in the UK, as NHS Direct: announced in 1997 and launched in 1998. Prior to that, HMOs in the USA were the most evident users of dedicated telephone advice services in health care

Innovation or pilot project

Pilot project - HealthDirect in Western Australia can be viewed as a pilot project for other state-wide health call centres

Stakeholder positions

To date there are no policy papers in the public domain, only the two internal consultancy reports described above.  These both involved workshops to bring together and engage stakeholders in the policy development process.

Expected outcome

Too early to tell.

References

Sources of Information

Little information has yet been made available publicly.  CHERE contacted civil servants within the Department of Health and Ageing, and is grateful for the documents that have been made available to us.

Two papers in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2002 discuss some of the relevant issues in the Australian health policy context.

Turner VF, Bentley PJ, Hodgson SA, Collard PJ, Drimatis R, Rabune C and Wilson AJ.  Telephone triage in Western Australia.  Med J Aus 2002; 176: 100-103.

Roland M.  Nurse-led telephone advice.  Med J Aus 2002; 176: 96.

Author/s and/or contributors to this survey

Rob Anderson, Marion Haas

Suggested citation for this online article

Rob Anderson, Marion Haas. "Health Call Centres". Health Policy Monitor, October 2003. Available at http://www.hpm.org/survey/au/a2/1