Training triage nurses is different than training nurses for in-person patient interaction for a couple of reasons: 1) triage nurses cannot see or touch their patient callers, which means 2) they need to ask appropriate questions to clarify each patient’s concerns and evaluate all relevant symptoms. To do this effectively, nurses must be educated on how to use standardized triage protocols, document patient calls thoroughly, be mindful of their tone of voice, stay focused, and guide callers when they need emergency assistance. Here’s how our training addresses each of these areas.
Thanks to the contributions of Drs. Barton Schmitt and David Thompson, there is a wide range of available nurse triage protocols. They’re also developed in a way that prompts nurses to address patient symptoms based on severity, allowing them to narrow down potential causes so that patients can be guided to the appropriate levels of care.
It helps if your nurses have access to intuitive triage software like MyTriageChecklist because it can allow them to a) document all patient interactions during a call, b) securely share patients’ health data and dispositions with the appropriate physicians, and c) customize instructions in order to meet the specific needs of a given practice.
When nurses interact with patients, it’s important that they pay close attention to the ways that they’re speaking and listening, as well as their ability to avoid distractions.
Nurses’ voices are powerful tools for reassuring patient callers, as well as obtaining the information needed to provide accurate dispositions. Nurses should remember to:
- Smile and use a friendly tone of voice.
- Demonstrate empathy in their language.
- Be calm and confident in their responses to patients’ questions and concerns.
Triage nurses must be good listeners. The three types of listening they should emphasize are:
- Active. This means offering short verbal acknowledgments to their patients, like “Okay,” “I see,” and “Yes, I understand.”
- Reflective. This usually involves paraphrasing each caller’s words and prompting them with open-ended questions like “Can you describe what happened?” in order to get more details.
- Empathetic. This is acknowledging the emotional aspect of each patient’s story, rather than focusing solely on the facts.
Finally, nurses should not be easily distracted. Sitting and talking for hours at a time can certainly be taxing. While there are self-care tips and exercises we recommend in order to make this work easier, personality type remains a strong indicator as to whether a nurse will do well in a telephone/telehealth triage role.
At some point, every triage nurse will have a caller who’s experiencing either severe chest pain or other symptoms that signal an emergency. These situations that require 911 can be tense and challenging because patients may not want to call emergency services. Why? Sometimes it’s due to fear, financial concerns, or embarrassment. Often it can be attributed to self-denial of their symptoms.
So how can triage nurses help? By:
- Building trust with patients through respectful guidance — not bullying or pressuring them to seek emergency care.
- Being empathetic if they’re hesitant to call 911, while still recommending that they do.
- Not hanging up on patients until the 911 operator is on the line with them.
- Being mindful that their language does not minimize patient caller concerns.
- Acknowledging when patients refuse to call 911 or go to an emergency room by documenting it clearly in their files.
Train With a Buddy
We strongly encourage all new triage nurses to initially train with a buddy — in other words, an experienced nurse who can listen to new nurses’ calls, offer them pointers, and help with their overall success.
Your Nurse Triage Training
Does your team need assistance training new triage nurses, getting the most up-to-date triage protocols, implementing triage software, or outsourcing triage calls? We can help you in all of those areas. Contact us today to get started.
TriageLogic is a URAC-accredited, physician-led provider of top-quality nurse telehealth technology, remote patient monitoring, and medical call center solutions. Founded in 2007, the TriageLogic Group now serves more than 9,000 physicians and covers over 25 million lives nationwide.