Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Telephone Triage Nurses Offer a Skillful Ear, Expert Advice

By E'Louise Ondash, RN

I have often wondered what it would be like to work as a telephone-triage nurse.

As I imagine it, the job could be both interesting and difficult. No doubt a phone-triage nurse converses with just about every kind of person and hears just about everything. There also must be considerable skill in trying to assist a person the nurse can’t see. In this situation, words count for everything when dealing with a problem that can be solved only by asking the right questions.

For those who are used to being physically active or busy, sitting in a cubicle or even hanging out at home talking into a headset for many hours could be a challenge. But it could also be a welcome change for some nurses who have worked years at the bedside and are looking for a less taxing way to share their expertise. Even though I currently work at a computer most of the time – I write features for various publications and websites and this blog – I don’t have the pressure of knowing that if I don’t resolve the problem for the patient on the other end of the line, results could be serious.

I got to thinking about this because of a press release I saw from a manufacturer who sells “nurse-triage products” that claim to ensure that callers/patients “get the care they need at the right place and at the right time."

In a recent survey of unidentified patients, this same manufacturer found that:

• 30 percent of the patients who called into a nurse-triage center expecting to visit the emergency room didn’t go after talking to the nurse.

• 10 percent of the surveyed patients who thought they did not need to go to the emergency room did require urgent care.

The vendor also claimed that its nurse triage on-call system can “reduce health care costs per patient because it decreases the need for patients to go to the emergency room.” This means lower costs per patient, and that’s what health systems are trying so desperately to achieve. Currently, telephone triage nurses can be found working at health maintenance organizations, office and group practices, in emergency departments and on crisis lines; by all accounts, this aspect of remote patient care (or telemedicine) is expected to grow considerably in the years ahead.

Triage nurses will usually use a computerized algorithm that prompts further questions according to patients’ answers. While the nurse must follow this algorithm, he or she must also be able to discern nuances in patients’ responses and be able to probe a bit more when necessary. Telephone triage nurses aren’t supposed to make diagnoses, but they must gather enough information to direct patients to the right level of care.

Do you or have you worked as a telephone triage nurse? In what setting?

What did you like and dislike about the job?

Tell us about it.

1 comment:

Tara said...

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