By Ravi Raheja
New technologies are transforming how clinicians deliver healthcare. At the same time, digital solutions alone are not enough to help patients. Incorporating some human component increases patient compliance and education, further reducing healthcare costs. Medical call centers should be adopting software and increasing the role of triage nurses to complement traditional care settings, such as the VA.
For example, digital diabetes prevention and treatment platforms connect users with support communities and health coaches who can remotely monitor chronic conditions such as weight, blood sugar, diet, and medicine intake. Thresholds and alerts can be set up to alert healthcare providers about abnormal and potentially abnormal or dangerous values. While the devices can collect and transmit data and even have a certain threshold, a medical professional still needs to interpret the data and then direct patients about the next steps based on the data and in the context of their symptoms and current health status.
Telephone triage nurses play a vital role in interpreting the data and providing appropriate follow up for patients who use these technologies. They act as the first line of screening when an alert or abnormal value is reported. They have the training to talk to patients, assess their symptoms, and determine the next best steps based on combining the data with the full patient assessment over the phone.
To assess patients and direct them appropriately, the nurses need triage protocols. Most medical call centers use the gold standard protocols from Schmitt-Thompson to assess symptoms. Call centers should also incorporate robust protocol builders, a technology that enables an organization to modify existing protocols to meet their needs and create new protocols when required.
By using custom-developed protocols, triage nurses can assess a patient using the data received from devices with appropriate next steps for medical care. As a result, triage nurses play a significant role in this new digital era, driven by value-based care. By combining the data from devices and other sources with innovative triage technology, triage nurses can act as the bridge between patients and providers. This creates a viable monitoring solution that provides cost-effective care.
In conjunction with the custom protocols, organizations should use platforms to put in custom workflows. As an example, once a nurse has determined the appropriate level of care, they can now further direct the patient to specific care locations, referral numbers, or provide handouts via text or email. This allows the triage nurse to serve as an effective first point of contact and get the patients to the appropriate next steps on the first call.
Finally, look for companies that can provide an optional mobile app to enable patients to take advantage of increased self-service, access to customized resources, and insight into their own information.
Technology is changing the access, monitoring and delivery of healthcare. Value-based solutions are now possible to optimize patient care and decrease healthcare expenses.
Call center solutions that incorporate effective communication using telephone triage nurses, coupled with valuable wearable device data, will be able to greatly improve the level of VA healthcare services for veterans and their families.
Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 7,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.