Telephone triage is one of the most effective ways to get patients to the right kind of care in the appropriate amount of time. But who has the ability to perform this service, and what requirements do they need in order to be effective? Consider the following factors before implementing your own solution.
All telephone triage should be performed by registered nurses. While it’s true that triage support may start with operators who ask patients an initial set of questions, it’s ultimately RNs who are responsible for contacting these patients back and providing them with the best dispositions for care. This makes sense for a number of reasons, not least of which is that registered nurses have the experience to understand the underlying issues that could be affecting their patient callers beyond the symptoms these callers are describing. Plus, they have the appropriate demeanor to deal with the variety of emotions, conditions, and concerns that patients will exhibit — especially when neither side can physically see the other. These skills allow nurses to determine which follow-up questions they should ask callers in order to gain a complete picture.
While we’ve talked before about what makes a good telephone triage nurse, two requirements worth mentioning again are critical thinking skills and empathy. During routine triage calls, nurses must gather patients’ health histories, select the correct guidelines to triage them based on their symptoms, document their calls, and follow customized instructions. All of this must be done while remaining calm, relating to each patient’s concerns, and encouraging patients to provide the information they need to arrive at the correct dispositions.
Telephone Triage Protocols
While RNs come with a wealth of knowledge, triage protocols have been developed in order to standardize and simplify the evaluation of each caller’s symptoms.
Those developed by Drs. Schmitt and Thompson are considered the gold standard, and come in versions for daytime and after-hours calls. Barton Schmitt, MD contributes to both office-hours and after-hours protocols focused on child symptoms and severity, while David Thompson, MD contributes to those same protocols by addressing adult symptoms, including those specifically related to hospice care.
These have been an invaluable resource for a large portion of healthcare providers across the US by improving their ability to evaluate patient symptoms, and encourage those patients to seek the most appropriate levels of care — whether that care can be administered at home, through a PCP, or at the ER.
It’s important to note that triage protocols are also updated on a consistent basis: when new medical information becomes available, like that concerning the COVID-19 pandemic; during annual evaluations by an independent board of physicians and nurses; and from periodic recommendations by doctors who use them.
Telephone Triage Software
Those who perform triage must make sure to document all caller interactions thoroughly. Otherwise, they risk liability in the event of a poor patient outcome. This process is easier with specially designed nurse triage software that: 1) includes Schmitt-Thompson protocols; 2) can be customized to the specific needs and policies of your practice; 3) integrates with your existing software, like an EMR or customer relationship management (CRM) tool; and 4) maintains secure access to all patient information.
Outsourced Telephone Triage
If you don’t have the nursing staff or the funds available to support your own in-house telephone triage, it’s possible to outsource this work to a third-party call center. For example, TriageLogic offers Nurse Triage On Call, which provides 24/7 access to registered nurses who will act as an extension of your practice. They do this by incorporating their knowledge, training listed above, our triage software, and Schmitt-Thompson protocols in conjunction with your providers’ customized preferences.
Need Telephone Triage Services for Your Practice?
If your team wants to implement its own nurse triage, you can access nurse triage protocols or triage software through us. Or, if you’d rather outsource the entire process, our call center is ready to support you. Contact us today to let us know which services you need.
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.