Experiences of patients and health care professionals on the quality of telephone follow-up care during the COVID-19 pandemic: a large qualitative study in a multidisciplinary academic setting

Famke M van Erkel*, Myrthe J Pet, Elles H M Bossink, Cathy F M van de Graaf, Marije T J Hodes, Sonja N van Ogtrop, Marian J E Mourits, Gera A Welker, Gyorgy B Halmos, Barbara van Leeuwen, Emoke Racz, Anna K L Reyners, Barbara C van Munster, Hester J van der Zaag-Loonen

*Corresponding author for this work

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OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the perceived quality of follow-up telephone consultations (TCs) from the perspective of patients and healthcare professionals (HCPs) of multiple medical disciplines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DESIGN: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews and reflexive thematic analysis.

SETTING: Seven medical disciplines (general dermatology, dermato-oncology, head and neck oncology, internal medicine, medical oncology, gynaecological oncology and surgical oncology) at a large university hospital in the Netherlands.

PARTICIPANTS: Patients who received and HCPs who provided TCs as a substitute for outpatient follow-up appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

RESULTS: Eighty-two patients and 58 HCPs were interviewed. Predominantly, patients and HCPs were satisfied with the quality of care by TCs. They regarded TCs as efficient, accessible and of acceptable quality, provided there was an established patient-HCP relationship, medical complaints were absent and physical examination was not indicated. However, most patients were worried about the accuracy of their health assessment in the absence of physical examination and non-verbal communication. Both patients and HCPs wish to use TCs in the future alternatively with face-to-face consultations.

CONCLUSION: This study concludes that TCs seem a valuable contribution to the context of follow-up care and could partially replace face-to-face consultations. TCs can be performed in stable, chronic patients with whom a doctor-patient relationship has already been established. Face-to-face consultations are considered more appropriate in the case of new patients, challenging or emotionally charged consultations and when clinically relevant physical examination is indicated. Due to the context-dependent nature of experiences of patients and HCPs, TCs should be used with an individually customised approach based on patient and disease specifics, in which shared decision-making plays an extensive role. Before major implementation is considered, sufficient data on the safety regarding missed diagnoses or cancer recurrences should be assembled first.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere058361
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10-Mar-2022


  • Aftercare
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Telephone

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