Telephone Nurse Triage’s Impact On Population Health

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Population health is (as defined by the Center for Disease Control) an interdisciplinary, customizable approach that allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally.

The CDC describes this approach as different sectors of the healthcare community utilizing non-traditional partnerships among different sectors of the community (public health, industry, academia, etc.) to achieve positive health outcomes. Population health “brings significant health concerns into focus and addresses ways that resources can be allocated to overcome the problems that drive poor health conditions in the population.”

What Are Some Issues Negatively Impacting Population Health?

It’s fair to say that nearly everyone working in healthcare is committed to ensuring that all patients receive the best outcome possible. Despite many healthcare professionals best efforts, there can still  be persistent, overarching barriers to care, though. These barriers can include:

Reduced barriers drive better outcomes for the patient, which in-turn drives better population health.

Delaying Healthcare Due To Avoidable Barriers

Delays in receiving care can be dangerous. Delays often occur when offices and clinics are closed, leaving patients with little choice but to go to the emergency department (ED) or postpone dealing with a symptom until the next business day. To complicate matters further, EDs can be quite costly depending on individual deductibles, and EMS transport can be even more expensive.

To avoid those costs, many patients – especially those on fixed or limited incomes, may choose to wait until their physician offices reopen in order to avoid the additional expense. Delaying seeking care may lead to more severe symptoms, placing the patient at a higher risk of a poor outcome.

How Can We Tackle This Issue Head-On?

Simply put, the previously listed overarching barriers can be overcome when 24-hour telephone triage nurses are utilized.

A dedicated team of licensed, registered nurses who are trained in triage and available 24 hours a day deliver valuable (and in some cases, life-saving) clinical advice when the patient has a health need or concern. Today, triage nurse availability is quickly becoming a necessity for successful health systems as well as physician practices. 

An Answer For A Growing Population

As the population continues to grow and age, the incidence of chronic illnesses increases while the shortage of primary care providers and registered nurses grows. 

Demand for care often exceeds the available supply of appropriate clinical care. With after-hours resources being scarce and expensive, it’s essential that caregivers are utilized in the continuum of care to practice at the highest level of their licensure. This is where nurse triage comes into play.

In one 8-hour shift, a telephone triage nurse can advise more than 30 patients. By listening to the patient’s symptoms, the nurse can identify the chief complaint, perform an evidence-based assessment, recommend the most appropriate level of care, and document the call and results in the EMR. 

Nurse triage and advanced practice nurses do what they can to alleviate the pressure on providers who are in short supply and overtaxed. By providing sound care advice to patients on demand, any time of the day or night, telephone triage nurses enable physicians to direct their expertise to patients who are high-risk, have chronic diseases, or are in the most fragile condition.

Timely care, competent clinicians, evidence-based guidance and accessibility are the valuable attributes of telephone nurse triage services and contribute to population health.

24-Hour Extension of Service Hours

With so many patients to care for, and with so few appointment slots available during the work day, access to appropriate care is difficult not just for patients, but for providers as well. Despite how much work is done and how much money spent on optimizing physician schedules, there are never enough open slots.

On average, physician offices that adhere to standards of care are open anywhere between 40 and 60 hours a week, however, patients’ health concerns don’t always adhere to this schedule, and instead persist 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Regardless of the time of day or night, patients can access 24 hour triage nurse services to get answers about the acuity of a health issue in real time along with a recommended course of action, which can drive better health outcomes.

Population Health goals assumes that today’s health systems will still be around in 50 years to care for patients. At the very least, however, they need sustainability and availability to grow.

The transition from a fee-for-service to fee-for-value reimbursement model necessitates that outcomes improve while payer compensation decreases. By implementing nurse triage along the frontline access point contributes to growth targets from a revenue perspective as well as an increase in covered lives.

In general, a well-trained triage department can resolve 40 to 50 percent of patient issues through one phone call and without the patient requiring an appointment or copay. The benefit is additional openings in provider schedules to accommodate new and complex patients, which can contribute to organizational expansion.

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