TriageLogic An angry patient caller sits on his couch at home and grimaces while yelling into a mobile phone in his hand.

How Triage Nurses Should Respond to Frustrated and Angry Patient Callers

The holidays certainly don’t have a shortage of healthcare needs. Many of those will be communicated by way of frustrated or angry patient callers for your nursing staff. Here are the steps your organization can take in order to manage those calls and ensure that patients still see the appropriate providers in the appropriate windows of time.

Calls From Angry Patients

When any patient loses their cool and becomes abusive to a telephone or telehealth triage nurse, it’s the nurse’s obligation to make the caller aware that their behavior is inappropriate and must not continue.

The most effective way to do this is through the following three-step approach:

  1. The nurse politely explains their intent to help the patient, but that the patient is making that difficult by speaking in a disrespectful manner. 
  2. If the behavior persists, the nurse must reiterate the first point, and ask the caller to refrain from using abusive language.
  3. If there’s still no change, the nurse informs the caller that they are ending the call and will contact the patient’s provider on their behalf. If at all possible, it’s recommended to end the call by saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to hang up now.”

Calls Involving Child Abuse

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were roughly 4 million reported cases of child abuse. The US Department of Health & Human Services notes that the “majority (77.2%) of perpetrators [were] a parent to their victim.” That’s why remaining calm and exhibiting empathy are both essential traits for triage nurses who respond to calls involving child patients — especially those who may be in immediate danger or need their primary care doctor notified. 

Open-ended questions are the best means of addressing these concerns, keeping callers engaged, and obtaining all relevant information so that nurses can provide the correct guidance on where to seek treatment — and, if necessary, notify emergency services.

Calls From Frustrated Parents

It’s not uncommon for parents to be stressed and frustrated when it comes to their childrens’ health. They may be feeling overprotective, or afraid of the symptoms their children are experiencing, especially when those children are too young to explain what hurts.

That’s why triage nurses must also utilize exceptional listening skills (outlined here) to gain the trust of these callers, reduce as much tension as they can through empathy, and encourage parents to follow their recommended plans of action.

Calls Dealing With Mental Health

The holidays often see more cases of stress, depression, thoughts of suicide, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) than any other times of the year. That’s even before taking into consideration COVID-19 and this year’s early seasons for flu and RSV

Similar to above, people calling about things of this nature have the potential to become loud, argumentative, and even abusive toward triage nurses. As best they can, nurses must still employ the same de-escalation tactics of listening, empathizing, and encouragement:

  • Listen without interrupting, clarify when necessary, and focus on what callers are saying. 
  • Make callers feel heard and understood by offering condolences.
  • Lay out instructions on what type of care patients should seek.

If caller needs are found to be minor or acute, triage nurses may only need Schmitt-Thompson protocols to help them. 

However, if those needs are chronic, nurses must follow specific guidelines from each patient’s physician first, followed by the applicable protocols. When guidelines and protocols aren’t available, nurses should try to contact each patient’s physician before evaluating whether they should go to the ER.

Calls That Are Difficult to Understand

Not all difficult calls are abusive. Some are simply hard to understand. This can happen when patients speak languages other than English, or have heavy accents. Others may be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Regardless of the reasons, triage nurses must remain patient and compassionate, and use any tools available to try and establish dialogues with these callers — to include involving nurse supervisors and patient physicians as needed.

Nurse Triage Training and Outsourced Services

Being a triage nurse is both rewarding and challenging, regardless of the time of year. That’s why we offer free training modules in our learning center, as well as a nurse triage certification course for a nominal fee. 

For those providers that would prefer outsourcing nurse triage as opposed to managing it internally, we have a call center of registered nurses who are ready to assist. Nurse Triage On Call is available 24/7 as an extension of a health system or practice. Our RNs use the most up-to-date Schmitt-Thompson triage protocols to evaluate all patient symptoms and offer the best dispositions for care. All interactions are documented with our nurse triage software, and shared directly with patient providers.

Start Your Nurse Triage Program

Need help with frustrated and angry patient callers over the holiday season and beyond? Contact us to discuss a program.

About TriageLogic

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 12,000 physicians and covers over 25 million lives nationwide.

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