What Makes A Telephone Triage Nurse Effective?

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Asked about a company or organization’s greatest asset, any CEO, president, or manager should have the same response: “Our employees.” The people that a company chooses to hire (or not) ultimately determine the company’s overall success.

In a 2018 Harvard Business Review interview with Netflix’s Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord, Patty was asked how an organization can be sure that it’s hiring the best employees. 

Patty said that companies need to “understand the teams of people that they’re supporting: what they do; what they look like; who do they talk to; what do they think about; what are they trying to accomplish; where do they hang out?”

Essentially, the organization needs to be able to “speak the language of the teams that they’re supporting”.

Four Top Qualities of TeleTriage Nurses

Telephone nurse triage has become a highly skilled and specialized field of nursing, one that we feel is an art.

We’ve identified the top four characteristics and strengths that we believe make for the best, and most successful telephone triage nurses.

1. Process Skills: Basic Computer Competency

While having basic computer skills (high typing speed and knowledge of program navigation) may seem basic in nature and not remotely specific to teletriage nurses, it’s a foundational trait that absolutely must be mastered in order to excel in every aspect of this job.

A teletriage nurse must be able to access a variety of different programs and electronic medical records (EMRs) to meet client specifications and deliver patient-centered care. 

During these patient interactions, it’s vital a nurse remain focused while navigating various software – this protects the patient and the integrity of their care.

2. Clinical Knowledge

For telephone triage nurses, there’s a vital need for clinical knowledge; paramount in this are phone assessment skills.

In general, Registered Nurses (RNs) with a breadth of nursing experience (particularly with emergency room nursing) find a good fit in telephone triage. Ambulatory care nurses also have the benefit of previous in-patient experience, coupled with phone assessments from their practice experience.

3. Adept Critical Thinking Skills

A successful telephone triage registered nurse must also be able to follow strict triage process guidelines; deviation from the process or the established guidelines can result in poor decisions, and poor outcomes for patients.

A nurse with adept critical thinking skills can ingest additional information (without deviating from the established process) and sort out the important details, all without allowing extraneous information to influence the call.

Patient callers will often use subjective language in order to explain their experiences. A successful teletriage nurse will be able to understand and separate the objective from the subjective in order to apply the appropriate triage process to the patient.

4. Adept Critical Listening Skills

In telephone triage, there are no visual cues for a nurse to pick up on that would usually help the nurse to assess the patient’s disposition; the nurse is dependent on only what is heard. 

Listening skills (hearing and identifying the most important details) are vital to the triage process.

The art of telephone triage is a combination of the science of nursing and trained listening skills. Typically, nurses are used to physically multitasking, but a telephone triage nurse has to be focused on mental multitasking. 

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Karen Brown serves as Vice President of Strategic Growth and Client Relations for AccessNurse. In her role, Karen applies her operational knowledge and passion for clinical excellence and patient experience as a consultant to potential clients. She works with clients to understand their objectives and advises on AccessNurse’s services to add value to our client organizations.