Though many people use the terms interchangeably, nurse triage and medical call centers are not the same. In fact, they are considerably different. Call and contact centers are distinct models for business communication and share very similar characteristics, yet are vastly different from triage or other nurse-based services. In this blog, we explain exactly what nurse-triage and call centers are, how they serve populations, the key differences between them and how to determine which is right for your organization. 

What is a Medical Call or Contact Center?

A medical call or contact center is an office setting where non-clinical agents handle inbound, outbound, or blended phone calls. They typically have on-premise hardware and telecommunication infrastructure to send and receive a high volume of calls. Call centers are often geared toward simply taking inbound calls from patients and forwarding them to the healthcare provider’s nurse or physician staff. When the provider’s staff isn’t available, the call or contact center employees take a message and forward that to the provider for a response the next day. This model is inefficient and doesn’t provide the value or care the patient seeks when they need it.

Call and contact centers traditionally focus on driving down costs by reducing the number of agents they have on staff and trying to push as much volume to those agents as possible. Typically, they will push agents to resolve calls faster and answer more calls per shift. Sometimes, call centers have installed an interactive voice response (IVR) system that keeps customers from talking to a real person or caregiver. These factors cause frustration and lead to a poor patient experience.

What is Nurse-Based Triage?

Nurse-based triage providers handle inbound and outbound calls and serve patients after-hours, allowing you to be there for your patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With their medical training and experience, these nurses can triage and provide patient support over the phone, greatly reducing the number of calls needed to be routed to the on-call staff. This, in turn, allows staff time for much-needed rest and recuperation, leading to reduced levels of burnout. Using care directives set with your clinical team, triage nurses operate within your protocols and systems. In addition, triage nurses can access your EMR, allowing them to review each patient’s record in real-time and provide proper guidance. The triage nurses act as an extension of your team, providing a consistent experience for the patient, no matter where the encounter begins or ends.

With these concepts in mind, here are five key differences in the triage and medical call center models:

  1. Patient Access to Care

With new technology and analytics, serving patients can go beyond answering inbound encounters. A high-level awareness of patient status makes it possible to reach out and proactively service a patient before an emergency call comes in.

Triage solutions give patients access to professional medical care on the first call, every time they call. Only if the patient’s concern is outside of the nurse’s scope or an in-person visit is needed is the on-call staff contacted. With medical call centers, the on-call staff is contacted every time a patient calls, plus patients experience delays in receiving care. 

  1. Empowering Patients to Do More

While call and contact centers make it hard to speak to a live nurse or physician, triage providers always connect directly to the patient and are ready to intervene to provide the best course of care possible. Whatever the method, self-service lowers the time patients and caregivers have to spend on the phone, which reduces costs and wait time.

  1. Analytics and Reporting 

On-call patient encounter data, such as call volume and encounter type, provides deep insights into your organization’s operations. The best nurse triage services record every interaction for quality assurance purposes. This allows triage services to provide key insights into what happens on each call, which can be leveraged throughout the organization to optimize care throughout the episode of care and improve the patient experience.

Because patient experience is not top of mind for call centers, being that the goal of the call is to transfer or take a message, valuable insights cannot be derived, nor is continuity of care supported. 

  1. Advanced Routing to the Right Nurse or Physician

Triage nurses can handle a significant percentage of calls. However, when calls need to be forwarded to another party, having patient medical information on hand makes it easier to route patients to the most appropriate and skilled caregiver possible. Pulling data directly from the EMR empowers triage nurses with the information needed to make care decisions from the first call. 

Patients want their concerns addressed quickly. They don’t like spending extra time defining their problem to multiple people, nor do they want to be transferred multiple times during the same call. While this is often the case with call centers, triage service models route patient encounters more quickly and accurately than call or contact centers ever could.

  1. Better, Consistent Patient Experiences

Lastly, with effective training, customer profiling, and patient experience strategy, exceptional patient encounters are possible with nurse-based triage services. Regardless of how patients engage with providers, they expect a certain level of service from whoever is on the other side of the encounter. It is up to providers to prioritize the patient experience and put measures in place that support their needs.

Nurse triage providers like IntellaTriage prove that continuity of care is possible.

Nurse Triage vs. Medical Call Center: Which is Better?

When it comes down to it, the main difference between nurse triage and medical call/contact centers lies in the patient experience. With a call or contact center, patients reach non-clinical resources and then hope to receive a call back from a nurse or physician in a timely manner. A triage provider puts your patients in direct contact with a live caregiver on every encounter. IntellaTriage is an all-in-one solution that transforms after-hours care delivery through well-trained registered nurses. Contact us today to learn more about what IntellaTriage can do for your organization – improve the patient experience and boost your bottom line.

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