How to Become a Phone Triage Nurse
January 18, 2021
The need for experienced, qualified phone triage nurses is growing. More healthcare providers and patients are turning to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, rural patients may have challenges traveling to their provider’s office to be seen for non-preventive medical care. With an aging population, the number of patients who need virtual access to healthcare is also growing. Learning how to become a phone triage nurse can be an important step as you move forward in your healthcare career.
The Importance of Triage
When a patient calls for medical assistance, it is critical that they receive quality information appropriate for their condition and their circumstances. Triage is a matter of discerning whether the patient’s injury, illness, or medical condition is life threatening, whether they need to be seen by a physician or at a medical facility, or whether they can be provided medical care over the phone.
There are essentially five dispositions for patients calling in for a healthcare concern:
- Patients who should immediately hang up and call 911.
- Patients who should be seen in the nearest Emergency Room.
- Patients who should go to an urgent care facility if symptoms do not improve within four hours.
- Patients who should schedule an appointment with their primary care provider within a few business days.
- Patients who can be treated at home with basic home care instructions.
Triage Nurse Responsibilities
A phone triage nurse is a Registered Nurse who evaluates a patient’s medical symptoms during a telephone call. An important skill for the nurse to have is to be able to determine the level of care needed as well as the urgency of that care. The triage nurse will know how to ask very specific questions of the patient as a way to assess the situation.
A telephone triage nurse will often use standardized protocols when conducting their assessment of the patient. The nurse will offer medical advice in accordance with these protocols while assessing symptoms and will also answer the patient’s questions and offer health education, to enable the patients to manage their own symptoms when appropriate.
Steps to Becoming a Telephone Triage Nurse
The first step in becoming a phone triage nurse is to earn a nursing degree or diploma. Triage nurses are Registered Nurses so you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
Bedside experience is also necessary as you’ll need a minimum of two years in bedside nursing to qualify as a triage nurse. Experience in the emergency room or intensive care units can be quite helpful in understanding the environment of a triage situation for patients calling in for medical assistance.
Although not required, additional certification as an ambulatory care nurse is helpful. This certification is offered by the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing. A section of the certification exam focuses on telephone triage. In order to qualify for this exam, you will need at least 2,000 hours of nursing experience in a clinical setting.
Communication and Thinking Skills
Since most of the work of a phone triage nurse is done by conversation over the telephone, certain skills are extremely important to have, to succeed in your career and to be able to effectively help patients. Excellent communication skills are essential. You must be able to clearly and calmly provide information and advice for the patient calling in for help. You must also be able to listen intently to the patient’s concerns, to be able to make a qualified determination of the level of care needed as well as the urgency of that care.
Other necessary skills include the ability to think on your feet and to respond quickly. Patients are calling for help because of a healthcare situation that may change even as you are speaking with them. You must be able to remain calm and to assess the situation swiftly.
A strong grasp of technology and an intense understanding of current medical science are also important skills. As a phone triage nurse, you’ll need to be able to communicate via telephone and possibly assist the patient in being able to communicate more effectively with you using these tools.
Effective and Timely Assessment of Patients’ Health Problems
At IntellaTriage, we understand the need for quality phone triage. We have more than a decade of experience providing nurse triage calls and our focus continues to be on providing the highest level of care for clients, no matter the time of day. Our phone triage nurses, all Registered Nurses, provide sound medical advice for patients concerned about a healthcare issue and we integrate with our providers’ systems to ensure consistent care for those patients. Contact IntellaTriage today for more information about our essential phone triage services.