What Makes an Excellent Tele-Triage Nurse?

By Michelle Holztrager

Tele-triage nursing has become a highly skilled and specialized field of nursing. At TeamHealth Medical Call Center, we believe tele-triage is an art. We have found that the most successful tele-triage nurses excel in four areas: process skills, clinical knowledge, critical thinking, and listening skills.

Clinical Thinking: Adept critical thinking is another crucial attribute of a tele-triage nurse. A telephone nurse must be able to follow the triage process to do well. Deviating from the process or the guidelines often results in poor decisions or the nurse going down the wrong path. A nurse with strong critical thinking skills can take in extra information and sort out important nuggets without allowing the extraneous communication to influence the call. Callers are usually subjective in their words, and the tele-triage nurse must be able to separate the objective from the subjective and apply the triage process to the presenting facts.

Listening Skills: Lastly, successful telephone triage requires excellent listening skills. There are no physical cues as to the patient’s disposition, and thus the nurse is dependent on truly hearing and clarifying what the caller says. Listening skills and the ability to hear the important details are vital to the process. At TeamHealth Medical Call Center, we focus on listening skills and verbal indicators throughout our training program.

I like to say that the art of telephone triage is the science of nursing with the addition of specially trained listening skills. Nurses are used to physically multitasking, but tele-triage requires very focused mental multitasking. Nurses who are proficient in these four areas will usually shine in the field of telephone triage.

Michelle Holztrager, RN, is the director of education and staff development at TeamHealth Medical Call Center.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]