Why Telephone Triage Nurses are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine
Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argument that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices. The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, and less driving time and waiting-room time. But like any other new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable, profitable, and that does not require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.
One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, doctors have a nurse start a patient visit before the doctor comes in. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.
First, some practices have nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether or not the patient needs the doctor at all or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse has to document patient symptom information before making the appointment for the patient to speak to a doctor.
This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols are being used to ensure patient safety can be very helpful in making the process efficient. Medical protocols such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols ensure a standard care every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them a lot easier to use as compared to textbooks. The electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.
However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have their own nurses always available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is to hire telephone nurse triage services to work with them. A nurse triage service can be used as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms in order to determine what actions should be taken. What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so that the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage nurse service is also able to schedule the patient appointments for those patients that need an appointment.
Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be very helpful for those doctors who do not have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7 because the nurses are still available for the patients. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50% of the callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.
Figure 1 comes from a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls. In over 50% of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER (in an event of an emergency, such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).
Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for your practice. When your nurses use triage protocols, you can have the confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit similarly to the notes that the doctors receive when their nurses see a patient before them during a physical office visit.
Schedule a demo of TriageLogic’s nurse triage products to determine which will work best for your practice and patients.