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Web intervention might cut primary care attendance for colds

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An online intervention featuring real-time information on locally circulating viruses may help reduce visits to GP practices for children with coughs and colds, suggests a study by UK researchers.

The intervention, which also features information on providing care at home, has shown potential in reducing the likelihood of parents taking a child to their GP practice for a respiratory tract infection.

“The intervention was effective in reducing primary care attendance intentions”

Study authors

The study authors, from London and Bristol, noted that respiratory tract infections are one of the main reasons for primary care consultation for children.

“These consultations contribute to primary care clinicians’ increasing workload and cost the National Health Service £31.5m per year,” they said.

They added that such visits to primary care for respiratory tract infections could also lead to unnecessary antibiotic prescribing, therefore, promoting resistance.

As a result, they set out to assess the potential impact on parents’ behaviour of an online intervention with real-time information on locally circulating viruses.

The intervention included locally enhanced influenza statistics, symptom information, and home-care advice.

A representative sample of 806 mothers was randomised to receive the intervention, either before or after responding to a hypothetical respiratory tract infection illness scenario.

Participants in the first group had lower intentions to visit their GP practice than those in the after, or control, group when adjusted for demographic and clinical characteristics.

The mean average intention to attend score was 7.29, with the before group reporting lower attendance intentions (6.45) than the after group (8.12).

The intervention material was “generally well received”, said the researchers, with information on symptoms and when to visit their GP rated as more important than that on locally circulating viruses.

They said: “The intervention was effective in reducing primary care attendance intentions by increasing knowledge, lowering attendance motivation, and reducing the need for additional resources.”

The information provided by the intervention “would be particularly helpful for first-time parents and parents of young children”, suggested the researchers.

In addition, they highlighted that some of the parents were interested in regularly checking the website to monitor circulating viruses.

As a result, they said the intervention “could also be used in an effort to prevent infections by heightening awareness of circulating viruses, and increasing the promotion of hand hygiene and other infection-prevention techniques”.

“Accessing the information with primary care clinicians during consultations was also seen as acceptable and could help publicise the intervention,” they stated.

If the intervention were rolled out widely, the study authors suggested it would have impact, given the high rates at which parents of children with respiratory tract infections visit primary care.

They also highlighted that increasing smartphone use meant that web-based resources were accessible to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The authors called for future research to evaluate intervention effects on observed behavioural outcomes in real-world settings and to examine long-term effects and cost-effectiveness.

“The contribution of individual intervention components and effects on behavioral outcomes requires further testing,” they added.

The findings from the study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research and Public Health England, have been published this week in the American Academy of Family Physicians.

 

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