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Nurse Triage & Telehealth Technology: A Symbiotic Relationship

date

June 2, 2022

How has technology affected nursing?

Much of our lives are now lived in the digital world. Banking, dining, travel, and healthcare are industries that have improved the customer experience via technology.

Over the last several years, the importance of nurse triage has become increasingly apparent. It is now widely valued, and viewed as an essential entry point to clinical care.

Technology has accelerated this trend. Nurse triage software has evolved into a multi-dimensional solution for patient access.

The triage nurse role has emerged as the most cost effective, scientific, on-demand and satisfying method of care. Access to Care defines the triage nurse’s role as an entry point to health services.

Why is technology important to triage nursing?

Triage software provides seamless digital access—thanks to artificial intelligence drawn from multiple data sources and provided to registered nurses—without a tedious search through multiple applications.

Vital information, including medical records, can be accessed in real-time, which empowers nurses to do what they do best: help patients in need of clinical care. No time is wasted on clerical tasks or hunting for essential information.

Nurses are too scarce and too costly to be assigned duties below their pay grade, or to spend excessive time searching for relevant information. These problems prevent nurses from practicing at the top of their licensure, and delay care.

Triage computer software improves patient safety, helps nurses perform their duties, and increases provider credibility. Providers are able to meet their strategic goals of access, growth, cost savings, and care quality. 

Will technology replace triage nurses?

Year after year, nurses are voted the #1 most trusted profession in the world. The empathy, respect, patience, and reassurance nurses incorporate in their care can’t be duplicated by technology.

Many experienced triage nurses, myself included, recall triaging patients using protocols in book form, writing our assessments on paper, and faxing them to the clinic site at the end of the day. Our only triage tool in the 90’s was the phone, so the process was incredibly time-consuming. Healthcare software has streamlined the triage process and improved patient outcomes.

But it’s important to remember that technology only enhances nursing—it doesn’t replace it. For cutting-edge computer software to perform optimally, it must work in tandem with skilled humans. The table below summarizes this symbiotic relationship.

What technology helps triage nurses improve patient care?

Healthcare Software 

Triage Nurse Skills

Emotional & Soft Skills

Symptom Checker 

- Manage acuity of all the queue entries for safety and oversight.

- Assess any uncertainties of subjective information.

- Escalate or downgrade acuity of call as needed.

- Registered nurse assumes ownership of the triage process and multi-disciplinary team.

- Convey empathy for the patient’s situation and offer support at onset.

- Allay anxiety: “I am going to help you and will remain on the line with you.”

Customized Directives & Orders

- Insight into the role of providers as a vital member in the continuum of care.

- Compliance to directive fosters confidence, respect, and buy in.

- Collaboration among caregivers nurtures trust and reduces gaps in care.

- Registered nurse practices within the scope of practice but at the top of licensure, leading to a professional practice that is autonomous, patient centric, and evidence based.

- Communication with the patient: “Go ahead and tell me what happened. Take your time.”

Protocols

- RNs understand that protocols are decision support tools which guide the assessment phase of the nursing process. 

- Protocols are guidelines, not mandates. 

- Critical thinking is an expectation of triage. 

- RNs use therapeutic rapport as a method of establishing trust with the patient.

- Cognizant of health literacy—speaks to patients in a manner that ensures comprehension.

- RNs are able to verify understanding by using the teach back method: “Now tell me what you are supposed to do”

- “Go ahead and tell me what happened—take your time.”

Intelligent Scheduling

- Allows RNs to actualize the plan of care by scheduling the most appropriate visit type in the most appropriate time frame.

- Nurse knowledge ensures referral to the most capable facility for current health status.

- Nurse judgment, along with technical tools, influence decisions to upgrade or to partner with providers to downgrade advice.

- Duty to terrify: “I understand you don’t want to call 911—but this is a life and death situation—you could die”

Triage nursing is here to stay

Triage nursing will only continue to advance over time. Patients, nurses, the healthcare system, and society as a whole will benefit from these changes. Technology has the power to improve care and save patients’ lives. 

That said, I predict humans will remain an integral component of triage nursing for years to come. New and exciting technological breakthroughs will help triage nurses offer ever better patient care—but these innovations won’t replace triage nurses. 

The recent pandemic has proven that virtual nurse triage is a consistent, safe, cost-effective provider of on-demand care.

Evidence-based principles, specially trained nurses, and insightful technological tools ensure a point of access to care that satisfies the needs of not only patients, but healthcare in general.

A fully optimized nurse triage program is an investment in organizational growth and sustainability.

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Posted By

Gina Tabone

Gina Tabone, MSN, has 25+ years of experience in telehealth. She has consulted for physicians, health systems, call centers, & other healthcare entities.

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