Telephone Triage Programs

Well-structured and systematic telephone triage programs utilize highly skilled registered nurses (RNs) who confidently and consistently respond to caller's needs. Nurses assist callers in making informed health care decisions, while strengthening the caller's perception of the health care provider, health care system, and their health care management.

Programs may be operated by:

Emergency Departments:

The telephone triage lines are often managed and staffed by members of the ED, and are physically located in or near the ED. Emergency department nurses possess a broad knowledge base, are skilled in rapid patient assessment, and are accustomed to triaging children and families with a wide variety of problems, health care issues, and cultural differences (Shorter, Matthews, 1996). Many ED-based telephone triage programs require nurses to rotate through the ED, to maintain their clinical skills. (Klinkhammer, 1997)

Health Maintenance Organizations

Telephone triage is an integral part of many HMOs and provides an important service to the clients of these large systems. The call volume is often high, which requires optimal organizational and communication skills of its nursing staff.

Private Offices

Telephone triage is a growing practice within physician's offices, as managed care works to reduce unnecessary office visits (Grandinetti, 1996). Patients are more frequently calling their primary care provider (PCP) for advice or counseling before requesting an appointment. Office triage nurses must be knowledgeable, possess good interviewing skills, and well-developed telephone assessment skills (Kelley, Mashburn, 1990).

Independent Companies

Independent and/or community based programs are available for use by private physicians and their patients. These programs are staffed with highly skilled RNs who follow established protocols in assessing a patient's condition and making recommendations to the caller. This autonomous nursing role allows the RN to advise the patient on a variety of health care issues - from seeking emergent care to educating them on appropriate home care.

Other telephone triage settings