What is a Phone Triage Nurse?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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A phone triage nurse is a certified health-care professional who answers calls from people who are experiencing adverse symptoms, but are not sure if they should seek in-person treatment. A professional relies on his or her expert nursing knowledge to assess the severity of a person's ailments and determine the need for further care. Most phone triage nurses are employed by hospitals, though some work in call centers that serve as overflow or after-hours response centers for many different clinics and private practices. Phone triage nursing is a very helpful service for doctors and hospital staff, as knowledgeable workers can significantly reduce unnecessary appointments and emergency room overcrowding.

In a typical call center, a phone triage nurse sits at a computer desk with a hands-free phone headset. When a call comes in, the nurse answers and obtains very basic information about the nature of the call. If it is apparent that a person is in danger or a great deal of pain, the nurse transfers the call to an emergency response service. After ruling out an emergency situation, the phone triage nurse gathers details about the patient's gender, age, and general concern. The job can be stressful at times, and nurses must be able to speak calmly and clearly to gather information from sometimes frantic callers.


While speaking with a patient, the nurse enters data into a specialized computer program that helps him or her determine the most appropriate questions to ask about symptoms. The phone triage nurse can usually follow the computer's prompts exactly, working through a list of questions that need to be addressed. It is still very important for the nurse to analyze answers as they come in, however, so that he or she can assess subjective and nonverbal responses that might suggest a serious condition. By gathering accurate information, the nurse can determine if a caller needs to set an appointment, visit an emergency room, or treat a condition at home.

A person who is interested in becoming a phone triage nurse can look into specific entry requirements in his or her region. Most workers are required to hold associate's or bachelor's degrees, pass registered nurse certification exams, and gain experience in other nursing settings. Many employers prefer to hire triage nurses who have several years of practical, hands-on nursing experience to ensure they will be capable of quickly understanding and addressing caller concerns. In addition, many national organizations provide voluntary certification courses for prospective phone triage nurses to help them improve their credentials.

A successful phone triage nurse may be able to advance within a hospital or call center to a supervisory position. As a supervisor, a nurse trains new workers and conducts regular performance reviews to ensure that callers are receiving quality information. Some experienced phone triage nurses assume administrative positions, wherein they help to develop more efficient protocols and training materials.


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Post 3

Save yourself thousands of dollars, saves your insurance 100's of thousands, saves your local hospital millions, saves your governments billions of dollars a year, and best of all, save more lives.

Why wait in the ER for four hours, just to go home with acetaminophen?

Why isn't this simple, over 100 year old service used by every healthcare provider?

Over the past 10 years, I've seen how this has changed our pockets and personal health the same time both for the good.

And yes, the biggest part is providing a lending ear while giving accurate information when really needed. Self-triage will never work. It's dangerous.

Post 2
@Pippinwhite -- Yeah, and you just have to deal with the drunks over the phone and not in person. Sorry, that sounds awfully cynical, but it's true. Any place that offers free medical advice is bound to get hit with either a ton of prank calls from silly teens, or soppy drunks who want to cry on someone's shoulder -- or who are looking for a fight.

In any case, a triage phone nurse has to possess extreme amounts of patience and tact in order to help those calling with legitimate needs, as well as those who are calling just to talk. One might venture to say someone who needed to talk has that need met and might stay out of the ER, leaving more space for those who really need it. Sorry, there goes the cynic again.

Post 1

Sometimes, the best thing a phone triage nurse does is calm a person. If someone calls with extreme anxiety, then he or she can often help the person avoid an unnecessary emergency room visit just by talking to the person and reassuring them that they are not in danger of immediate death. Sometimes, just having a listening ear does a person as much good as any medication.

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