Many patients encounter a variety of problems in the first weeks after they have been discharged from hospital to home. Telephone follow-up, initiated by hospital-based health professionals, is considered to be a good means of exchanging information, providing health education and advice, managing symptoms, recognising complications early and giving reassurance to patients after discharge. Some research has shown that telephone follow-up is feasible, and that patients appreciate such calls. However, until now it was not clear whether telephone follow-up is also effective. Our systematic review identified 33 relevant studies, almost all of which were of low methodological quality (a major limitation of the review). We found that telephone follow-up has been applied in many patient groups. There is great variety in the ways the telephone follow-up has been performed. Many different outcomes have been measured. Some studies found effects in favour of the telephone follow-up intervention, but overall studies identified no statistically significant differences between the telephone follow-up and control groups. For as far as the results of studies could be pooled together, we could draw no firm conclusions about the effects of telephone follow-up. No studies identified adverse effects of the intervention.
The low methodological quality of the included studies means that results must be considered with caution. No adverse effects were reported. Nevertheless, although some studies find that the intervention had favourable effects for some outcomes, overall the studies show clinically-equivalent results between TFU and control groups. In summary, we cannot conclude that TFU is an effective intervention.
It is known that many patients encounter a variety of problems in the first weeks after they have been discharged from hospital to home. In recent years many projects have addressed discharge planning, with the aim of reducing problems after discharge. Telephone follow-up (TFU) is seen as a good means of exchanging information, providing health education and advice, managing symptoms, recognising complications early, giving reassurance and providing quality aftercare service. Some research has shown that telephone follow-up is feasible, and that patients appreciate such calls. However, at present it is not clear whether TFU is also effective in reducing postdischarge problems.
To assess the effects of follow-up telephone calls in the first month post discharge, initiated by hospital-based health professionals, to patients discharged from hospital to home.
We searched the following databases from their start date to July 2003, without limits as to date of publication or language: the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group's Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library), PubMed, EMBASE (OVID), BiomedCentral, CINAHL, ERIC (OVID), INVERT (Dutch nursing literature index), LILACS, Picarta (Dutch library system), PsycINFO/PsycLIT (OVID), the Combined Social and Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-E), SOCIOFILE. We searched for ongoing research in the following databases: National Research Register (http://www.update-software.com/nrr/); Controlled Clinical Trials (http://www.controlled-trials.com/); and Clinical Trials (http://clinicaltrials.gov/). We searched the reference lists of included studies and contacted researchers active in this area.
Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials of TFU initiated by a hospital-based health professional, for patients discharged home from an acute hospital setting. The intervention was delivered within the first month after discharge; outcomes were measured within 3 months after discharge, and either the TFU was the only intervention, or its effect could be analysed separately.
Two review authors independently assessed studies for inclusion and for methodological quality. The methodological quality of included studies was assessed using the criteria from the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Review Group. The data-extraction form was based on the template developed by the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group. Data was extracted by one review author and checked by a second author. For as far it was considered that there was enough clinical homogeneity with regard to patient groups and measured outcomes, statistical pooling was planned using a random effects model and standardised mean differences for continuous scales and relative risks for dichotomous data, and tests for statistical heterogeneity were performed.
We included 33 studies involving 5110 patients. Predominantly, the studies were of low methodological quality. TFU has been applied in many patient groups. There is a large variety in the ways the TFU was performed (the health professionals who undertook the TFU, frequency, structure, duration, etc.). Many different outcomes have been measured, but only a few were measured across more than one study. Effects are not constant across studies, nor within patient groups. Due to methodological and clinical diversity, quantitative pooling could only be performed for a few outcomes. Of the eight meta-analyses in this review, five showed considerable statistical heterogeneity. Overall, there was inconclusive evidence about the effects of TFU.