Postal surveys were conducted among samples of patients in four practices to determine accessibility of surgeries and general practitioners by telephone. Over half of the respondents reported being unable to get through to the surgery on their first attempt. Significant differences between practices were related to the number of patients served by each incoming line. Although all of the general practitioners involved were accessible to patients by telephone, only half of the respondents knew this. Significant differences in awareness levels between practices were related to policies and methods of disseminating this information. Satisfaction with the help received from doctors by telephone was uniformly high, but patients were less satisfied with the process of contacting a doctor, particularly where receptionists questioned callers about their problem. It is suggested that practices review the adequacy of their telephone systems against a recommended standard of one incoming line per 2500 patients and consider how information about their telephone policies and services can be effectively communicated to patients. Reception staff may need additional guidance on managing telephone contacts with patients.