What is a telephone triage nurse?

Telephone triage nurses can help eliminate overcrowding in hospital emergency rooms.

A telephone triage nurse is a certified healthcare professional who takes calls from people who are experiencing adverse symptoms but are unsure whether to seek treatment in person. A professional relies on their specialized nursing knowledge to assess the severity of a person’s illnesses and determine the need for additional care. Most telephone triage nurses are employed by hospitals, although some work in call centers that function as excess or after-hours call centers for many different clinics and private practices. Telephone triage nursing is a very useful service for doctors and hospital staff, as experienced workers can significantly reduce unnecessary consultations and ER overcrowding.

Telephone nurses must be able to use the knowledge they have without any visual aid from the patient.

In a typical call center, a telephone triage nurse sits at a computer desk with a hands-free headset. When a call comes in, the nurse answers and gets very basic information about the nature of the call. If it is evident that a person is in danger or in great pain, the nurse transfers the call to an emergency care service. After ruling out an emergency situation, the telephone triage nurse gathers details about the patient’s gender, age, and general concerns. Work can be stressful at times, and nurses must be able to speak calmly and clearly to get information from sometimes frantic calls.

In a typical call center, a telephone triage nurse sits at a desk with a hands-free headset.

When talking to a patient, the nurse enters data into a specialized computer program that helps the nurse determine the most appropriate questions to ask about the symptoms. The telephone triage nurse can usually follow the computer’s instructions exactly, working through a list of questions that need to be answered. It is still very important for nurses to analyze responses as they arrive, however, so that they can assess subjective and non-verbal responses that may suggest a serious condition. By gathering accurate information, the nurse can determine whether a caller needs to make an appointment, visit an emergency room, or treat an illness at home.

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A person interested in becoming a telephone triage nurse can check the specific entry requirements in their region. Most workers must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, pass nurse certification exams, and gain experience in other nursing settings. Many employers prefer to hire triage nurses with several years of practical nursing experience to ensure they are able to quickly understand and address caller concerns. In addition, many national organizations offer voluntary certification courses for potential telephone triage nurses to help them improve their credentials.

A successful telephone triage nurse may be able to advance from a hospital or call center to a supervisory position. As a supervisor, a nurse trains new employees and conducts regular performance reviews to ensure callers receive quality information. Some experienced telephone triage nurses take on administrative roles, helping to develop more effective protocols and training materials.

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