As a telephone triage nurse, it is vital to have excellent listening skills in order to create a positive patient experience. You want to make a connection with the caller and gain their trust. Triaging patients over the phone is challenging as nurses have limited information available to them. Since the nurse isn’t able to use touch or visual cues, listening becomes the number one tool available to help the caller.
Listen to the Entire History Before Triaging
It is easy to jump straight into triaging upon hearing the first symptom mentioned by the patient. To avoid this, listen carefully to the caller’s history and symptoms and explore all possibilities. For example, abdominal pain in an older female may signal a urinary tract infection, while you may need to consider a pregnancy with a younger female. Asking a brief history and exploring the caller’s concerns in more detail will prevent overlooking a serious symptom and triaging to the wrong disposition.
Techniques For Better Telephone Triage
There is an art to speaking with someone on the phone. You will be more helpful to your patients and enjoy job satisfaction if you practice some of the techniques listed below:
- Smile and have a friendly voice when talking with the patient. Believe it or not, people can tell when you’re smiling over the phone!
- Show empathy. Your goal is to gain the callers trust. You need to remain friendly but stay professional and encouraging.
- Be calm and confident. Most callers are scared, so it is important that you remain calm as you listen intently to their concerns and keep confident as you help them through their situation. Believe in yourself, your ability, and your knowledge. To sound confident to the caller, you want to avoid weak phrases such as “I think”, “Maybe”, or “I’m not sure”. Instead, when faced with a question you don’t know the answer to, say “Let me check into that for you.”
- Practice the three types of effective listening: active listening, reflective listening, and empathic listening.
- Active listening refers to short verbal demonstrations that you are paying attention. Use words such as “Okay”, “I see”, and “Yes, I understand”.
- Reflective listening includes paraphrasing what the caller is saying, asking clarifying questions, and encouraging the caller to speak in more detail by asking open ended questions such as “Can you describe what happened?” Open ended questions cannot be answered with just one word; this will get the caller to better explain what is happening.
- Empathic listening is the skill that demonstrates attention to the emotional aspect of the patient’s story, not just the facts of the matter.
Finally, remember to listen to the caller’s concern, voice, and anxiety levels. While the triage nurse is the trained professional, the callers who are anxious have to be taken seriously and get an extra thorough assessment for two reasons – to ensure there is nothing really serious going on and to reassure the caller you are taking them seriously and that they will be okay.
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