Frequency, content and stress levels of incoming phone calls related to COVID-19: Results of a flash-mob study among German general practice teams

Achim Mortsiefer, Klaus Weckbecker, Michaela Maas, Alexandra Schmidt, Christine Kersting

Keywords: COVID-19, practice assistants, telephone calls, primary care

General practices teams face high workloads during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research questions:
This study aimed to (1) quantify the frequency of patients’ telephone requests in German general practices, (2) analyse issues raised by patients about COVID-19, and (3) determine the stress level of practice assistants in connection with phone calls on COVID-19.

On April 28, 2021, a cross-sectional flash-mob study was carried out in general practices across Germany. The study material and invitation was disseminated via social media and postal or electronic mails. For a half day, participating practices counted every incoming call. For calls addressing COVID-19, reason, duration, and perceived stress level were documented. Descriptive statistics and regression analyses were performed.

A total of 5,646 phone calls, which of 1,826 addressed COVID-19 (32.3%) were documented by 73 practices (practice average: 13.8±11.8) within a single Wednesday morning. Most calls addressed vaccination (n=1,050, 59.0%). During 22.0% (n=388) of COVID-19-related calls practice assistants felt stressed, which was mainly influenced by the call duration. Feeling well-prepared to meet patients’ requests on COVID-19 was a protective factor for the average stress perceived per practice assistant.

General practice teams experience a high volume of sometimes stressful phone calls on COVID-19. Even if the practices are mostly well prepared, the data on the perception of stress show that some practice assistants are better able to cope with a high volume of telephone inquiries and the advisory function associated with patient information requests than others. In order to adequately support the practice assistants in performing this underestimated advisory function, further training, financial recognition and organizational support are necessary.

Points for discussion:
How to motivate a practice team with high workload to collaborate in a research project

Possibilities and limits of the flash-mob study design