Skip to main content
  • Research article
  • Open access
  • Published:

The acceptability to patients of PhysioDirect telephone assessment and advice services; a qualitative interview study



In response to long waiting lists and problems with access to primary care physiotherapy, several Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) (now Clinical Commissioning Groups CCGs) developed physiotherapy-led telephone assessment and treatment services. The Medical Research Council (MRC) funded PhysioDirect trial was a randomised control trial (RCT) in four PCTs, with a total of 2252 patients that compared this approach with usual physiotherapy care. This nested qualitative study aimed to explore the acceptability of the PhysioDirect telephone assessment and advice service to patients with musculoskeletal conditions.


We conducted 57 semi-structured interviews with adults from 4 PCTs who were referred from general practice to physiotherapy with musculoskeletal conditions and were participating in the PhysioDirect trial. The Framework method was used to analyse the qualitative data.


The PhysioDirect service was largely viewed as acceptable although some saw it as a first step to subsequent face-to-face physiotherapy. Most participants found accessing the PhysioDirect service straightforward and smooth, and they valued the faster access to physiotherapy advice offered by the telephone service. Participants generally viewed both the PhysioDirect service and the physiotherapists providing the service as helpful. Participants’ preferences and priorities for treatment defined the acceptable features of PhysioDirect but the acceptable features were traded off against less acceptable features. Some participants felt that the PhysioDirect service was impersonal and impaired the development of a good relationship with their physiotherapist, which made the service feel remote and less valuable.


The PhysioDirect service was broadly acceptable to participants since it provided faster access to physiotherapy advice for their musculoskeletal conditions. Participants felt that it is best placed as one method of accessing physiotherapy services, in addition to, rather than as a replacement for, more traditional face-to-face physiotherapy assessment and treatment.

Peer Review reports


Musculoskeletal pain problems are extremely common in the population. Up to 30 % of all general practitioners’ (GPs) consultations in the UK involve a musculoskeletal problem, and over a quarter of registered patients will consult their GP for a musculoskeletal problem in a one-year period [1]. Many people with musculoskeletal problems are referred to physiotherapy, with approximately 6.7 million new referrals made to physiotherapy services each year in the National Health Service (NHS) [2, 3]. However, arrangements concerning how and when people with musculoskeletal pain access physiotherapy services vary across the UK, depending on local circumstances. This often means physiotherapy services have long waiting lists, resulting in waits for treatment from several weeks to months. Several initiatives have been developed to help address this problem, including the introduction of physiotherapy-led telephone assessment and advice services known as ‘PhysioDirect’. These services allow patient to contact a physiotherapist who will then assess their musculoskeletal symptoms over the telephone.

The PhysioDirect service tested in RCT is a typical service model. The participants involved in the RCT were invited to telephone a senior physiotherapist. Participants were either provided advice about good self-management over the telephone, and posted a relevant advice leaflet and appropriate exercises or they were invited to attend a face-to-face appointment at their local physiotherapy department. Participants who solely managed over the telephone were encouraged to phone back to report progress after two to four weeks, and if they re-contacted the service they were re-assessed and given further advice or a face-to-face consultation was arranged if it was felt necessary [4]. Thus, PhysioDirect was a service that provided a package of care, rather than only telephone assessment and advice.

The results from a randomised trial of PhysioDirect showed that it was safe, resulted in equivalent clinical outcomes (participants’ physical function) [4]. The trial also found that participants who were randomised to PhysioDirect were no more satisfied with access to physiotherapy than usual care participants, but had slightly lower satisfaction with regards to the consultation and overall satisfaction at six months. However, a limitation of satisfaction surveys is that they do not describe the patient experience [5]. From the patient perspective, healthcare acceptability is linked to how patients experience and evaluate the quality of care they receive [6]. In relation to telehealth, acceptability is evaluated in terms of patients’ physical and psychological comfort with the application, the convenience of the encounter, the personal skills and the manner of the professional, the assessment of the lack of face-to-face contact and the willingness to use service again [7]. This qualitative study investigated how patients experienced the PhysioDirect service, with the main aim of exploring its acceptability from their point of view. The main objective of this paper is to describe the key variables that determined patient acceptability of the PhysioDirect service and to understand how the patient experience differed from those accessing usual physiotherapy care. The perceptions of physiotherapists, managers, GPs and commissioners are reported elsewhere [8].


The qualitative study was nested within PhysioDirect RCT and details of the methods, clinical and economic results of the trial are available elsewhere [4, 9, 10]. Full ethical approval was granted for the study from Southmead Research Ethics Committee, Reference 08/H0102/95 and full PCT Research and Development (R & D) approval was granted by each PCT prior to the start of the RCT. All the participants in the qualitative study provided written and informed consent prior to being interviewed.


The criteria for the selection of a purposive sample of interview participants from the wider sample participating in the RCT were as follows: PCT, trial arm, gender, age and site of musculoskeletal complaint (see Table 1: characteristics of sample). Participants were sampled in order to include individuals from four different groups in the qualitative interviews; those randomised to the PhysioDirect service who proceeded to have telephone contact only, those randomised to the PhysioDirect service who had both telephone contact and then face-to-face contact by a physiotherapist, those randomised to PhysioDirect but who subsequently chose not to telephone the service and finally, those randomised to usual physiotherapy care. It was particularly important to understand the acceptability of the PhysioDirect service from those patients who received the telephone contact only and therefore, more of those patients were selected for interview. Usual care patients were interviewed in order to facilitate comparisons with the new PhysioDirect service. Those who randomised to PhysioDirect but chose not to contact the service provided useful insights as to whether the service was unacceptable. Participants were sampled to ensure a breadth of age, gender, PCT, site of musculoskeletal complaint across the four patient groups.

Table 1 Summary of participant characteristics according to the interview sampling criteria

Participants and interview process

The main PhysioDirect trial database was used to identify potentially eligible participants for the nested qualitative interviews. Participants meeting the relevant criteria were identified from the database and invited by letter to take part in the qualitative interviews. In total, 388 participants were invited to take part in the qualitative interviews over a period of 9 months from August 2009 to April 2010. 82 agreed to be interviewed, however, thematic saturation was reached after 57 interviews. Participants were selected based on our sampling criteria and their availability to attend the interview. Each participant was interviewed once, soon after their physiotherapy episode of care in the RCT, at a convenient time and location to the participant (mostly participants’ homes).

The interviews were semi-structured, guided by a literature informed topic guide developed by the study team (see Appendix). The topic guides were reviewed following early interviews so that new questions were incorporated in response to unanticipated themes arising from earlier interviews [11]. This process of topic guide amendment was followed for each of the four patient groups interviewed. In addition to the topic guide reflection and amendment, interviews were listened to, transcripts were re-read to check for accuracy and to glean initial ideas about issues of potential importance.

Data analysis

A Framework approach was used to analyse the qualitative data [12]. The Framework approach is a thematic, cross-sectional analysis that allows the researcher to simultaneously analyse across themes and cases. It enables qualitative findings and interpretations to build from the original data, allowing the analysis to maintain a clear auditable trail. The approach is a matrix-based method for analysing qualitative data that includes familiarisation with the data, the creation of a theoretical framework, indexing the data according to the Framework and the creation of summaries from the indexed data. These summaries are then finally mapped in charts and descriptive explanatory accounts are created. The audio files of the patients were listened to several times and transcripts reread to identify key themes and concepts. The data were sorted and reduced to a manageable form, and a theoretical index was refined to summarise the essence of the transcripts. In order to ensure confirmability and trustworthiness, a sample of transcripts was double coded and the thematic framework was reviewed by four of the authors (JP, JR, MC and NF) before it was applied to all data. A data summary was attached to each of the data labels on the index. Large charts of the index headings and attached summaries were created and descriptions that captured the essence of the summarised data across the cases were made with key themes identified. Finally, the themes were mapped and interpreted by the author team in order to construct overall explanations of the data.


In total, 57 face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted, each lasting on average 43 min (ranging from 14 min and 07 s to 66 min and 38 s). Table 1 provides a summary of the participants who took part in interviews, showing their key characteristics according to each of the sampling criteria. Slightly more women were interviewed than men, and although the average age was 58 years, there was a large range of ages, with the youngest person interviewed being 19 years and the oldest being 87 years. More participants were interviewed in the group that was randomised to the new PhysioDirect service than in the usual-care group, including those who received some or all of the components of the new service, as well as those who were randomised to the new service but who never telephoned or contacted the service. Nine interviews were conducted with patients randomised to usual care. A range of participants with similar characteristics were interviewed across the four patient groups.

In addressing the acceptability of the PhysioDirect service, we grouped the 13 sub-themes into 4 overarching themes: expectation of the PhysioDirect service, PhysioDirect as an ‘access point’ into physiotherapy, acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service and less acceptable features of PhysioDirect. Details are summarised in Table 2 along with descriptions of the themes and illustrative quotes from participants. All participants names used are pseudonyms.

Table 2 Summary of key themes, descriptions and illustrative quotes describing the acceptability of the PhysioDirect service

Expectations of the PhysioDirect service

Participants’ expectations of PhysioDirect influenced whether they engaged with the service and how they evaluated it. Some participants had firm ideas of what they expected from physiotherapy, perceiving it to be a physical treatment that is done to them and therefore, these participants felt that the PhysioDirect service could not meet their needs.

“I thought I might get some advice on the phone which means I can start early before my appointment and I was actually quite surprised I didn’t get an appointment at all.” Lucas, age 34, PhysioDirect arm: telephone care only

However, there were participants who were initially sceptical of PhysioDirect, but who changed their minds and viewed it positively after they actually experienced the service. It appears that their opinion had changed from the perception that ‘proper’ physiotherapy was impossible via the telephone, towards understanding that effective physiotherapy assessment and advice could be telephone based. Others who were interviewed felt they had no prior expectations of the PhysioDirect service. Many of these participants had no previous experience of physiotherapy and may therefore have been less likely to expect face-to-face contact.

PhysioDirect as an ‘access point’ into physiotherapy

The qualitative interviews with participants reflected the range of possible experiences when accessing the PhysioDirect service and were categorised into four distinct groups: direct access, call-back service, difficulty in access and failed to access. Of those interviewed who had been randomised to the PhysioDirect arm in the trial (n = 38), 25 experienced telephone contact only and 13 both the telephone contact and face-to-face care. From those 38 participants, 13 spoke to a physiotherapist who assessed them immediately, 12 participants experienced the PhysioDirect service as a call-back service, 5 participants described difficulties in accessing the service, but after persisting in calling they were eventually successful.

Participants perceived PhysioDirect as an early stage in the process of accessing physiotherapy and referred to the PhysioDirect service as the first stage in accessing physiotherapy treatment. They described the telephone consultation with the physiotherapist as the first step in this process. Participants also perceived that the PhysioDirect service already existed within the healthcare system and that the level and mode of input from physiotherapists would increase, depending upon the complexity of the problem. The second stage of care was described by participants who were invited for a face-to-face appointment.

“You’ve got to try something to see if you can resolve the problem and it’s easier to resolve it in the simplest ways rather than go into the extreme ways, because maybe you don’t need to go to the extreme, you can do the first stage first and that maybe resolves it. Or maybe you might have to go to the second stage and that resolves it.” Somerton, age 53, PhysioDirect arm: telephone care only

Some participants accepted that the PhysioDirect service provided the ‘first stage’ of physiotherapy care, whilst others felt that the PhysioDirect service introduced an unnecessary stage which actually impaired their access to ‘proper’ physiotherapy services.

“It’s just annoying. Well, I’ve done that and as far as I’m concerned now I’ll ring up tomorrow and say ‘What’s the next stage, I’m not happy with what’s happening, are you proposing anything else or do I have to go back to the doctor and see what he can do?’ Because, as far as it is at the moment, it’s a waste of time. It’s done nothing for me at all.” Walter, age 79, PhysioDirect arm: telephone care only

The quantitative trial data showed that 85 % of patients in the PhysioDirect arm contacted the service at least once [4]. Therefore, 15 % of patients who were randomised to the PhysioDirect service and consented to take part in the trial did not contact the PhysioDirect service. It was important for the qualitative interview study to try to understand why these patients chose not to contact the service. The reasons provided by participants included difficulty accessing the service due to inconvenient opening hours (during working hours for participants); the perceived cost of the telephone call for some participants; some chose to seek out private physiotherapy instead; the musculoskeletal problem had resolved; low expectations about the benefit of physiotherapy; and for some participants, other competing priorities in their lives meant that they did not prioritise contacting the PhysioDirect telephone service. Of course, failure to take up the offer of physiotherapy is not a unique feature of the PhysioDirect service. In our sample of patients randomised to usual physiotherapy care who took part in the interviews (n = 9), three did not attend their physiotherapy appointment despite being a participant in the trial. The first participant did not attend the face-to-face physiotherapy appointment due to the length of the wait from GP referral to appointment and they sought out private physiotherapy instead. The second participant had moved address and his address details were lost to the physiotherapy service therefore, he was unaware of his usual care appointment date. The third participant failed to attend her appointment but was already in contact with the physiotherapy department due to a previous injury for which she had received treatment. She reported that she intended to contact the physiotherapy department that treated her previously in the near future.

Acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service

The most acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service expressed by participants were that it was quick, efficient and convenient. Participants preferred the immediacy of the telephone advice compared to the longer waiting times for face-to-face physiotherapy care (in the trial patients in the PhysioDirect arm had their first telephone contact on average 7 days after randomisation, versus 34 days for face-to-face care in the usual care arm) [4]. They felt that NHS physiotherapy waiting lists were too long and suggested that a wait of two weeks from the date of the GP referral to the first physiotherapy contact would be more acceptable.

It’s not a viable proposition to say I’m gonna go to the physio tomorrow. Um because life isn’t like that but certainly I would have thought within one or two weeks um of being referred and you should have had some form of consultation done within that period of time, you know to even to turn around say well all you need is exercise you know or whatever.” Kurt, age 61, PhysioDirect arm: usual care

Participants also liked being able to access the PhysioDirect service in their own homes and places of work, and described not having to go to the physiotherapy clinic, take time off work or pay for car parking as convenient. The telephone style of the physiotherapists providing the PhysioDirect service was also perceived by participants to be very important. The participants interviewed were very positive about the physiotherapists in both the usual care and PhysioDirect arms. Participants perceived the physiotherapists to be polite, helpful and friendly. They described their physiotherapist as the knowledge provider, able to advise, provide information on their pain condition and offer time frames for the participant to phone back if their problem did not improve as expected. The PhysioDirect service was perceived by participants as effective in providing self-management advice and was described by participants as providing them with the knowledge to carry out their own physiotherapy at home.

“It was the fact knowing that that person, sort of, seemed to understand what you were going through and just trying to be helpful and give you advice and then it’s left for you to try it and then take it from there and then if there’s a problem that person would still be there to phone and get more advice on it if you needed it.” Somerton, age 51, PhysioDirect arm: telephone care only

Less acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service

The most common negative feature of PhysioDirect perceived by participants was that the telephone care was felt to be impersonal. The words ‘not personal’ were used by participants in their narrative when they described the features they disliked about PhysioDirect. For some participants the one-off assessment and treatment advice in the PhysioDirect service, appeared to contribute to their perceptions that PhysioDirect was impersonal as there was no ongoing contact with the therapist. There was no evidence in the interviews with usual care participants that they viewed the usual face-to-face physiotherapy service as impersonal. A further concern of those interviewed was the absence of non-verbal communication in the PhysioDirect service, i.e., the lack of visual cues and physical contact. The lack of visual cues made it difficult for participants to explain to the therapist where exactly they were experiencing their pain. For example, in a face-to-face consultation, the participant could explain the location of pain by physically pointing to the painful spot on their body, pinpointing the exact anatomical position. Most participants found it difficult to explain the bodily movements they were making in order to feed back to the physiotherapist over the telephone during the assessment of their musculoskeletal condition. Reliance upon their own descriptions and interpreting what the physiotherapist said and meant resulted in the assessment creating some doubt in the minds of the participants about whether they had described their problem sufficiently well for the physiotherapist to make an accurate diagnosis. Some participants reported that they had unanswered questions about the advice and information they received over the telephone, and whilst participants could telephone the service again to clarify, some seemed reluctant to do that.

“It left me with more questions and like I said, although I knew I could phone them, I didn't want to talk to someone on the phone. I wanted to be able to sit opposite someone face-to-face and say X, Y, Z, you know.” Helen, age 59, PhysioDirect arm: telephone care only

None of the usual care patients interviewed reported finding it difficult to describe their symptoms to their physiotherapist during their face-to-face assessment. It also appeared that many of the participants who expressed difficulty with explaining their condition over the telephone were invited by the physiotherapist for a face-to-face appointment.

The interview data also highlighted that participants made trade-offs between the acceptable and less acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service, evaluating and weighing-up the different aspects of their experience. The most acceptable feature of PhysioDirect was the speed of access to physiotherapy assessment and advice. Participants’ trade-offs centred upon the perception that the PhysioDirect service resulted in faster access to physiotherapy than waiting for a face-to-face appointment, and this was viewed as a sufficient benefit to accept the reduction in personal (face-to-face) contact.


The evidence from the qualitative interviews showed that participants experienced the PhysioDirect service as quick and efficient. These findings should be interpreted alongside the findings from the randomised trial that patients in the PhysioDirect arm received their initial assessment by a physiotherapist more quickly than those in the usual care arm, yet did not express greater satisfaction with access to physiotherapy [4]. Although participants valued fast access to physiotherapy advice they also perceived the PhysioDirect service as the first stage in accessing physiotherapy with talking on the telephone to a physiotherapist as the first step in this process and the face-to-face consultation as the second stage. This suggests that the PhysioDirect service provides a useful option or choice for people wanting early advice from a physiotherapist rather than as a replacement for face-to-face care. Similar findings were concluded by Pinnock and colleagues who suggested that the perceived benefits of telephone based care compared to face-to-face consultation resulted in a recommendation that asthmatic patients in general practice should be offered a choice of consultation [13]. More broadly, patient acceptability of NHS Direct and telephone triage in primary care have been demonstrated [14, 15]. In addition, telephone based services providing healthcare support for the management of long-term conditions such as diabetes are also acceptable [16].

Some participants described the PhysioDirect service as ‘remote’ and ‘impersonal’ and some found it difficult to describe their symptoms adequately over the telephone. It is acknowledged that describing pain is often challenging [17]. However, it appears that describing symptoms over the telephone, rather than being able to also physically show the physiotherapist the impact of their symptoms, exacerbated the difficulty that participants had in describing their pain. Participants also reported that they sometimes felt that the telephone consultation impeded the therapeutic relationship between the participant and physiotherapist. Inter-personal care and communication between patients and health care professionals are important in how patients judge quality [6], and have also found to be one of the most powerful influences on levels of patient satisfaction [18, 19]. This might explain why the PhysioDirect telephone consultations often were perceived to be of less value than a face-to-face consultation. Importantly the data showed that in order for the PhysioDirect service to be acceptable, participants needed to make trade-offs between speed of access to physiotherapy advice and reduction in personal contact. Patients make similar trade-offs when patients decide to consult their GP in primary care [2022]. Whilst trade-offs are an important concept to highlight, if waiting times were reduced to a maximum of two weeks for face-to-face physiotherapy, the trade-offs made by participants for speed of access may mean that the PhysioDirect service would perhaps no longer be considered acceptable.

The data showed some participants who were initially sceptical and have negative expectations of the PhysioDirect service changed their mind after they experienced it, evaluating it as positive. It was likely that the acceptable features of the PhysioDirect service, for example, the physiotherapists, improved access and treatment outcome influenced their subsequent evaluation of the service. Nevertheless, the qualitative results highlight that for participants who expected to be seen by a physiotherapist were more likely to evaluate the PhysioDirect service as unacceptable. It might be safe to assume that those participants who had strong expectations of being seen face-to-face also had preferences, before the start of the trial, to receive usual physiotherapy care. However, the trial tested for an interaction between baseline participant preferences and randomisation arm in terms of satisfaction with the service and found no significant interactions [4]. The qualitative results, nevertheless, showed that if participants expected face-to-face care and did not receive it they were dissatisfied and tended to evaluate PhysioDirect as unacceptable. Patients’ expectations are thought to moderate the relationship between patient concern and satisfaction [23]. Therefore, for successful implementation of the PhysioDirect service elsewhere, it seems particularly important for physiotherapists to clearly communicate to patients the role and function of the PhysioDirect service, to increase its acceptability and to elicit strong preferences for face-to-face contact where they exist.

Strengths and limitations

The strength of this study was that the patient sample reflected the wide range of participants who used physiotherapy services across the four PCTs involved in the trial. This provided the qualitative study with a rich dataset to explore the acceptability of the PhysioDirect service. An additional strength of this study was that non-users views were sought to fully explore the acceptability of the new PhysioDirect service. The views of usual care patients established usual physiotherapy care in participating PCTs which allowed a direct comparison to those patients who experienced the PhysioDirect service. Additionally, views were also collected from patients who were randomised to PhysioDirect trial arm but did not contact the service as it was important to establish if there were any practical or theoretical reasons as to why the PhysioDirect service might be unacceptable. All the participant interviews were carried out face-to-face.

A limitation was the proportion of participants agreeing to be interviewed from the total number invited. It was felt that in order to fully explore the acceptability of the PhysioDirect service it was important to include a wide range of participants with different characteristics, in the interviews. It was difficult in some cases to arrange interviews at mutually convenient times, in addition some participants cancelled their previously arranged interviews. Another further limitation is that only three participants were interviewed who were randomised to usual physiotherapy care but failed to attend their physiotherapy appointment. This made it difficult to make any conclusions about the comparison with those participants randomised to the PhysioDirect service who did not telephone or contact the service. Thus it is unknown whether there are similar or different explanations for patients not accessing the PhysioDirect service in comparison to those not accessing traditional face-to-face physiotherapy.


Many participants felt that PhysioDirect was a useful option for those wanting early physiotherapy advice for their musculoskeletal condition. However, they tended to view PhysioDirect as a useful first stage in the assessment and advice process rather than as a replacement for face-to-face care. Participants’ expectations of PhysioDirect influenced how they evaluated the service, and these expectations were often based upon their previous experience of physiotherapy and on their views of what constitutes good physiotherapy. The acceptability of PhysioDirect was in part determined by the manner in which participants traded off fast access to physiotherapy advice on the telephone versus the lack of personal contact. These findings support the quantitative trial results [4] that PhysioDirect is a useful option for services to consider but it is unlikely to merit becoming the only mode of access to physiotherapy in the future.



Clinical Commissioning Group


General Practitioner


Medical Research Council


National Health Service


Primary Care Trust


Research and Development


Randomised Control Trial


  1. Jordan KP, Kadam UT, Hayward R, Porcheret M, Young C, Croft P. Annual consultation prevalence of regional musculoskeletal problems in primary care: An observational study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2010;11:144.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  2. Health and Social Care Information Centre NHS Physiotherapy Services Summary Information for 2004–2005, England. 2005. Accessed, 12/09/2010.

  3. Jones R, Jenkins F. A survey of NHS physiotherapy waiting times and musculoskeletal workload and caseload in England 2010–11. London: Chartered Society of Physiotherapy; 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Salisbury C, Montgomery AA, Hollinghurst S, Hopper C, Bishop A, Franchini A, Kaur S, Coast J, Hall J, Grove S, Foster NE. Effectiveness of PhysioDirect telephone assessment and advice services for patients with musculoskeletal problems: Pragmatic randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2013;346:f43.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  5. Fitzpatrick R. Surveys of patients satisfaction: Important general considerations. BMJ. 1991;302:887–9.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. Campbell SM, Roland MO, Buetow SA. Defining quality of care. Soc Sci Med. 2000;51:1611–25.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Field MJ. Telemedicine: A guide to assessing telecommunications in health care. Washington: National Academic Press; 1996.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Salisbury C, Foster N, Hopper C, Bishop A, Hollinghurst S, Coast J, Kaur S, Pearson J, Franchini A, Hall J.Grove S, Calnan M. Busby J, Montgomery A. A pragmatic randomised controlled trial of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of ‘PhysioDirect’ telephone assessment and advice services for physiotherapy. Health Technol Assess. 2013;17:1–157.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. Salisbury C, Foster NE, Bishop A, Calnan M, Coast J, Hall J, Hay E, Hollinghurst S, Hopper C, Grove S. ‘PhysioDirect’ telephone assessment and advice services for physiotherapy: Protocol for a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. BMC Health Serv Res. 2009;9:136.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  10. Hollinghurst S, Coast J, Busby J, et al. A pragmatic randomised controlled trial of ‘PhysioDirect’ telephone assessment and advice services for patients with musculoskeletal problems: Economic evaluation. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e003406.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  11. Hennink MM, Hutter I, Bailey A. Qualitative research methods. London: Sage; 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Ritchie J, Lewis J. Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers. London: Sage; 2003.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Pinnock H, Madden V, Snellgrove C, Sheikh A. Telephone or surgery asthma reviews? preferences of participants in a primary care randomised controlled trial. Prim Care Respir J. 2005;14:42–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. O’Cathain A, Knowles E, Turner J, Nicholl J. Acceptability of NHS 111 the telephone service for urgent health care: Cross sectional postal survey of users’ views. Fam Pract. 2014;31:193–200.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Jiwa M, Mathers N, Campbell M. The effect of GP telephone triage on numbers seeking same-day appointments. Br J Gen Pract. 2002;52:390–1.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  16. Long AF. Gambling T, Young RJ, Taylor J, Mason JM, PACCTS Team. Acceptability and satisfaction with a telecarer approach to the management of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2005;28:283–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Morse JM. Researching illness and injury: Methodological considerations. Qual Health Res. 2000;10:538–46.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. McCracken LM, Evon D, Karapas ET. Satisfaction with treatment for chronic pain in a specialty service: Preliminary prospective results. Eur J Pain. 2002;6:387–93.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Knight PK, Cheng AN, Lee GM. Results of a survey of client satisfaction with outpatient physiotherapy care. Physiother Theory Pract. 2010;26:297–307.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Salisbury C, Goodall S, Montgomery AA, Pickin DM, Edwards S, Sampson F, Simons L, Lattimer V. Does advanced access improve access to primary health care? questionnaire survey of patients. Br J Gen Pract. 2007;57:615–21.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  21. Gerard K, Salisbury C, Street D, Pope C, Baxter H. Is fast access to general practice all that should matter? A discrete choice experiment of patients’ preferences. J Health Serv Res Policy. 2008;13:3–10.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Rubin G, Bate A, George A, Shackley P, Hall N. Preferences for access to the GP: A discrete choice experiment. Br J Gen Pract. 2006;56:743–8.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  23. Egbunike JN, Shaw C, Porter A, Button LA, Kinnersley P, Hood K, Bowden S, Bale S, Snooks H, Edwards A. Streamline triage and manage user expectations: Lessons from a qualitative study of GP out-of-hours services. Br J Gen Pract. 2010;60:e83–97.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references


The research was funded by Medical Research Council (MRC) and managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) on behalf of the MRC-NIHR partnership. JP was funded through a Keele University ACORN PhD studentship with support from the Institute of Primary Care and Health Sciences at Keele University. NF is supported by an NIHR Research Professorship (NIHR-RP-011-015). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer Pearson.

Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

JP contributed to the design of the qualitative study, conducted the qualitative interviews and led the analysis as part of a PhD. JP wrote the first draft of the paper and contributed to successive drafts. NF was JP’s lead PhD supervisor and the principal investigator of the PhysioDirect trial at the Keele site. NF helped design the qualitative study, analyse the data, contributed to successive drafts of the paper and contributed to the original grant application for the PhysioDirect trial and the Keele University ACORN studentship that provided funding for JP. CS was the chief investigator of the PhysioDirect trial, was primarily responsible for the original grant application and contributed to successive drafts of the paper. JR and MC were JPs second and third supervisors who contributed to the design of the qualitative study, analysis of the patient data and to successive drafts of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Authors’ information

JP is a Research Associate in the Faculty of Health & Applied Sciences at the University of the West of England. JR is a Senior Lecturer in Health Services Research in the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Research Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences at Keele University. MC is a Professor of Medical Sociology in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent. CS is a Professor of Primary Health Care Centre for Academic Primary Care in the NIHR School for Primary Care Research at the University of Bristol. NF is NIHR Professor of Musculoskeletal Health in Primary Care in the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, Research Institute for Primary Care and Health Sciences at Keele University.



Topic Guide PD Call only: Version 1

Aim and objectives:

The overall aim of this study is to explore the acceptability of a new way of delivering physiotherapy services. Experiences of and views about how patients’ experience physiotherapy are of particular interest.

Background information:

For the context of the interview it would be helpful to know some brief information about you. Can you give me some background information about yourself? For example, what you do for a living? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?


Can you tell me about the problem you were referred to physiotherapy for? For example, how long have you had the problem? How has it affected you in your day-to-day life?

Process to physiotherapy:

Can you tell me how you were referred to physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy expectations:

I would like to know if you have ever had physiotherapy before? Can you tell me about your experience?

Physiotherapy attitudes, beliefs:

I would like to know what you think about physiotherapy? Did you think physiotherapy would help your problem?

Point of contact:

Can you tell me how you contacted the service?

For example, opening times, ease of access

Overall experience:

I would like to know about your experience of talking to someone over the telephone.

For example, consultation, physiotherapist, information and advice, call length


I would like to know if the physiotherapy you received has helped your problem?

View of the service:

I would like to know what you thought of the service and what you liked and disliked about it? Is there anything you would change about the service you received? Would you use the PhysioDirect service again? What impact has the service had the service had on your problem if any?

Future suggestions:

I would also like to get your views on accessing other services via the telephone. Do you telephone bank? Have you ever used NHS Direct or the GP out of hour (OOH) services?


Thanking re information given, reflection on what was said, and other questions?


Reiterate confidentiality and thank

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pearson, J., Richardson, J., Calnan, M. et al. The acceptability to patients of PhysioDirect telephone assessment and advice services; a qualitative interview study. BMC Health Serv Res 16, 104 (2016).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: