TriageLogic A nonclinical message taker works at the front desk of a medical practice.

Why Don’t Nonclinical Message Takers Have Protocols Like Triage Nurses?

When a patient calls their doctor’s office, the following series of events usually takes place: a nonclinical operator greets the patient and takes a message about why they called; the operator forwards the message to a triage nurse; the triage nurse calls the patient back and uses Schmitt-Thompson protocols to evaluate their symptoms. These protocols use the severity of those symptoms to determine whether the patient can manage them at home, or should be further evaluated by a physician. This all begs the question: why do nurses get access to protocols that guide their decisions, but nonclinical message takers don’t?

Read on to learn why triage nurses benefit from protocols, and why nonclinical operators now have access to a similar resource.

Nurse Triage

Nurses have long been tasked with evaluating patient symptoms prior to their physicians’ review. Today, much of that triage can be done by phone because of: 

  • Patient worries and fears. Many patients don’t like the idea of going to the doctor. Others go when they really don’t need to. Triage nurses provide reassurance and guidance for both groups. 
  • Types of patient questions and requests. About 75 percent of the information that patients want to ask their doctors can actually be managed by triage nurses. This gives physicians more time to focus on their in-person appointments.

Schmitt-Thompson Protocols

Schmitt-Thompson nurse triage protocols were designed as a means of standardizing telephone triage so that every patient’s symptoms would be evaluated fairly and accurately. 

Updates to protocols happen on a routine basis, including: a) once a year, following a review by a certified board of medical professionals; b) after a major medical event, like the COVID-19 pandemic; and c) as physicians make recommendations regarding changes to their use.

These protocols not only identify the symptoms that patients may not think to mention, they’re used to anticipate the worst possible reasons for those patients’ ailments, and create dispositions on the types of care they should seek. 

Dispositions vs. Diagnoses

Besides standardizing care, protocols also discourage triage nurses from diagnosing patients. This distinction between disposition and diagnosis is important, because it all ties back to the practice’s liability in the event that a patient experiences a negative health outcome. Since triage nurses don’t normally see their patients (except for telehealth video conferencing), Schmitt-Thompson protocols provide the medical checklists they need for asking all of the appropriate questions for thorough symptom evaluation.

Nurses can then use triage software like myTriageChecklist to document all patient symptoms and interactions, and share that information directly with their doctors to ensure continuity of care.

Why Aren’t There Protocols for Nonclinical Operators?

More than likely, the reason is because the need for them was never as clearly defined as it is today. At first glance, the role of taking messages may seem so straightforward that protocols seem unnecessary, especially when nonclinical operators — whether those manning front desks or working from call centers — aren’t the ones responsible for prioritizing callbacks with those patients. 

However, as we’ve seen, this arrangement isn’t as efficient in actual practice. In fact, there’s evidence that a sizable number of messages don’t include important information about patient symptoms, leading to delayed callbacks and potentially negative health outcomes.

Why the inaccuracy? Nonclinical operators and patients don’t have the same knowledge as certified medical professionals when it comes to identifying symptoms that need to be mentioned or clarified. 

That’s why TriageLogic developed MedMessage Assist, the first AI-based tool designed for medical message intake. Although the software runs on artificial intelligence, we like to think of it as augmented intelligence: it’s meant as a tool to help operators, not replace them.

When these operators are typing notes from patients into a medical program, MedMessage analyzes the text and determines if additional questions are necessary. When they are, it tells operators what to ask. In short, this provides them with their own version of nonclinical protocols — and these “protocols” have already been proven to be over 99% effective in identifying urgent calls.

Do Your Nonclinical Message Takers Need Augmented Intelligence?

If you’d like to see how MedMessage Assist can improve your medical message intake, we want to hear from you! Contact us today 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 9,000 physicians and covers over 42 million lives nationwide.

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