How a web-based tool could reduce unnecessary visits


A new web-based intervention for evaluating respiratory tract infections can help parents reduce the need for office visits.

headshot of Annegret Schneider, PhD

Annegret Schneider, PhD

Researchers in the United Kingdom are testing a new tool that may help prevent unnecessary primary care visits. The online tool proved effective in reducing primary care visits for low-risk respiratory tract infections (RTIs) in children, according to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine.1

Researchers at the University College of London, including lead author Annegret Schneider, PhD, tested an evidence-based online intervention targeted at parents in the study. The tool used information about a child’s symptoms and duration of illness, as well as the parent or caregiver’s desire to have his/her child seen by a clinician. Parents and caregivers were split into 2 groups in the study, with one viewing interventional education online before a series of questions and the other receiving the intervention after answering questions about his/her child. According to the report, caregivers who viewed interventions were less likely to visit a clinician for the child’s illness.

“Web-based resources could help deal with self-limiting, low-risk pediatric respiratory tract infections,” Schneider says of the intervention. “Also, information on symptoms and when they should attend were especially important for parents in this context.”

RTIs usually can be treated at home

Respiratory tract infections are one of the main reasons for a visit to the pediatrician’s office, according to the report, and make up the bulk of a pediatric clinician’s workload. Many of these infections can be treated at home, the researchers say, and clinic visits often lead to unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

“This could help reduce unnecessary antibiotics prescribing and the primary care clinician’s high work load, and support parents with home care,” Schneider says.

More than 800 caregivers were included in the study. Of those, 76% had visited a primary care practice in the last year with their child, and 10% of the children had chronic health issues such as asthma or allergies. Participants ranked the education provided in the online intervention tool, with information on when to attend a primary care practice being hailed as the most important aspect of the intervention tool by the majority of participants. Other common pieces of information delivered in the online tool included symptom information, data on local circulating viruses, home-care advice, and information on the expected duration of illness.


Aside from reducing visits in the intervention group, researchers found that caregivers overall appreciated the tool for its open-ended questions and useful information about circulating respiratory infections and home-care options. Just 2 participants expressed concerns about safety by being deterred from visiting a physician, calling the intervention “irresponsible.”



1. Schneider A, Cabral C, Herd N, et al. Reducing primary care attendance intentions for pediatric respiratory tract infections. Ann Fam Med. 2019;17(3):239-249.

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