The place of digital triage in a complex healthcare system: An interview study with key stakeholders in Australia's national provider
Churruca K., Ellis LA., Pope C., MacLellan J., Zurynski Y., Braithwaite J.
Background: Digital triage tools such as telephone advice and online symptom checkers are now commonplace in health systems internationally. Research has focused on consumers’ adherence to advice, health outcomes, satisfaction, and the degree to which these services manage demand for general practice or emergency departments. Such studies have had mixed findings, leaving equivocal the role of these services in healthcare. Objective: We examined stakeholders’ perspectives on Healthdirect, Australia's national digital triage provider, focusing on its role in the health system, and barriers to operation, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Key stakeholders took part in semi-structured interviews conducted online in the third quarter of 2021. Transcripts were coded and thematically analysed. Results: Participants (n = 41) were Healthdirect staff (n = 13), employees of Primary Health Networks (PHNs; n = 12), clinicians (n = 9), shareholder representatives (n = 4), consumer representatives (n = 2) and other policymakers (n = 1). Eight themes emerged from the analysis: (1) information and guidance in navigating the system, (2) efficiency through appropriate care, (3) value for consumers? (4) the difficulties in triage at a distance, (5) competition and the unfulfilled promise of integration, (6) challenges in promoting Healthdirect, (7) monitoring and evaluating digital triage services and (8) rapid change, challenge and opportunity from COVID-19. Conclusion: Stakeholders varied in their views of the purpose of Healthdirect's digital triage services. They identified challenges in lack of integration, competition, and the limited public profile of the services, issues largely reflective of the complexity of the policy and health system landscape. There was acknowledgement of the value of the services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an expectation of them realising greater potential in the wake of the rapid uptake of telehealth.