Impact of NHS 111 Online on the NHS 111 telephone service and urgent care system: a mixed-methods study

Janette Turner, Emma Knowles, Rebecca Simpson, Fiona Sampson, Simon Dixon, Jaqui Long, Helen Bell-Gorrod, Richard Jacques, Joanne Coster, Hui Yang, Jon Nicholl, Peter Bath, Daniel Fall, Tony Stone

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Background: The NHS emergency and urgent care system is under pressure as demand for services increases each year. NHS 111 is a telephone triage service designed to provide advice and signposting to appropriate services for people with urgent health-care problems. A new service, NHS 111 Online, has been introduced across England as a digital alternative that can be accessed using a website or a smartphone application. The effects and usefulness of this service are unknown.

Objectives: To explore the impact of NHS 111 Online on the related telephone service and urgent care system activity and the experiences of people who use those services.

Design and methods: A mixed-methods design of five related work packages comprising an evidence review; a quantitative before-and-after time series analysis of changes in call activity (18/38 sites); a descriptive comparison of telephone and online services with qualitative survey (telephone, n = 795; online, n = 3728) and interview (32 participants) studies of service users; a qualitative interview study (16 participants) of staff; and a cost–consequences analysis.

Results: The online service had little impact on the number of triaged calls to the NHS 111 telephone service. For every 1000 online contacts, triaged telephone calls increased by 1.3% (1.013, 95% confidence interval 0.996 to 1.029; p = 0.127). Recommendations to attend emergency and urgent care services increased between 6.7% and 4.2%. NHS 111 Online users were less satisfied than users of the telephone service (50% vs. 71%; p 
Conclusions: There is some evidence that the new service has the potential to create new demand. The service has expanded significantly, so it is important to find ways of promoting the right balance in numbers of people who use the online service instead of the telephone service if it is to be effective. There is a clear need and preference by some people for an online service. Better information about when to use this service and improvements to questioning may encourage more uptake.

Limitations: The lack of control arm means that impact could have been an effect of other factors. This work took place during the early implementation phase, so findings may change as the service expands.

Future work: Further development of the online triage process to make it more ‘user friendly’ and to enable users to trust the advice given online could improve use and increase satisfaction. Better understanding of the characteristics of the telephone and online populations could help identify who is most likely to benefit and could improve information about when to use the service.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN51801112.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Services and Delivery Research programme and will be published in full in Health Services and Delivery Research; Vol. 9, No. 21. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Services and Delivery Research
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021


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