Flu Season: Reflection and Preparation

By Ravi Raheja, MD

During the summer months, it can be nice for the staff when the telephones calls to triage centers and practices slow down. Summer is a good time to sit back and relax, but it is also the best time to get ready for the busy winter season ahead.

While flu and cold season typically peaks between December and February, it can begin as early as October and continue as late as May. With this in mind, it is important for healthcare providers to take additional steps to make sure they have a plan in place before the patient load gets higher.

Proactive Steps for Individual Practices:

  • Use summer visits and annual physicals as an opportunity to educate your patients about their need for a flu shot in the winter.
  • Evaluate your providers’ schedule templates and plan to make changes to accommodate more sick appointments, walk-ins, and extended hours.
  • Evaluate your telephone triage system to ensure you can handle a higher volume of phone calls. Consider the following four items: First educate front staff about potentially dangerous symptoms that cannot wait for a callback. Next standardize the approach to taking messages and relaying them to the triage nurse, both urgent and routine. Then train staff on telephone triage using triage books, online resources, and in-house materials. Finally ensure you have triage protocols available either in book or electronic format, so they can be used to provide standardized, reliable telephone care that can be documented in your EMR.

Proactive Steps for Call Centers:

  • Review last season’s data to evaluate call volumes and patterns. Even though specific call patterns are not as predictable, seasonal call volumes can be anticipated. Callback times are also valuable to establish service levels and goals.
  • Plan to hire seasonal employees to assist with increased volume. Summer is a good time to prepare to recruit and train based on last year’s volume and your call center’s growth.
  • Use the slower summer months as an opportunity to refresh your nurses’ triage skills with additional training material and reminders.
  • Send out surveys to get feedback from clients to help you prepare for the upcoming season.

Continuous evaluation of the quality of your service keeps a call center strong and healthy. Since summer offers a perfect break in patient calls, why not use the extra time to prepare for the upcoming flu season? When the season hits, there will be little time to ask these questions and improve your service. Keep patient health and nurse morale your highest priority by using the summer months to get ahead.

Ravi K. Raheja, MD, is the COO and medical director of TriageLogic, a URAC accredited provider of quality triage solutions, serving over 3,000 physicians and covering over 6.5 million lives. TriageLogic provides both software and after-hours nurse triage services. For more information contact Amy Smith at 888-832-6852, or visit www.triagelogic.com.

[From AnswerStat August/September 2015]