Swine flu help line misses other serious conditions

A teenager was told he had swine flu after phoning the national helpline only to discover a few days later that his condition was a severe urinary tract infection.


Whilst alarming this is a predictable drawback of telephone helplines in that it is more difficult to make a correct diagnosis over the telephone especially when symptoms may be vague early in a disease. This highlights the balance required between the safety of the population through efficiency of the health service and the safety of the individual.

There is a paper submitted to BMJ Case Reports currently undergoing peer-review involving the misclassification of illness over a telephone helpline. Remote and asynchronous medicine has an obvious advantage for efficiency but we need to be aware of the type and size of risk that exists when medicine loses its human touch.