Identifying Ideal Telephone Triage Nurses
Ask the President or CEO of any high-performing organization, and they will often tell you their people are their greatest asset. The people we ultimately choose to hire are directly linked to our company’s overall success – or lack thereof. This concept can easily be summed up in one short statement:
If you want to be the best, you must hire the best.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the Chief Talent Officer for a major entertainment company was asked how organizations can be sure they are hiring the best employees. She said for companies to ensure the best hires, they must “understand the teams of people that they’re supporting: what do they do; what they look like; who do they talk to; what do they think about; what are they trying to accomplish; where do they hang out. They should be able to speak the language of the teams that they’re supporting.”1
Telephone Nurse Triage has become a highly skilled and specialized field of nursing. At AccessNurse, we believe it is an art. During the past 23 years, we have developed an expert understanding of what a successful, high-performing telephone triage nurse looks like: what they do, who they talk to, what they think about and what they are trying to accomplish. We’ve identified four top characteristics and strengths that make the best telephone triage nurses:
- Process skills: typing and keyboard / computer navigation. While this may seem very basic in nature and not specific to the job of telephone nurse triage, it is a foundational trait that must be mastered in order to excel in every aspect of the job. Our nurses must access a number of different programs and client EMRs to meet client specifications and drive patient-centered care. It is vital that our nurses do not lose focus during patient interactions because of difficulties they may encounter managing technology. AccessNurse utilizes a number of tests to evaluate software comprehension, keyboard dexterity, typing speed and multitasking.
- Clinical Knowledge. Obviously, there is a vital need for top-tier clinical knowledge. Paramount in this are phone assessment skills. Generally speaking, RNs with broad nursing experience (in particular ER nurses) are a good fit for telephone triage. Ambulatory Care nurses usually have the benefit of previous in-patient experience coupled with phone assessments from their practice experience. For call center specialties and subspecialties, AccessNurse seeks RNs with specific experience within that specialty area. We provide intensive training on phone assessments, guideline selection and the clinical phone triage process.
- Adept critical thinking is another crucial attribute of a successful telephone triage RN. He or she must be able to follow our triage process to do well. Deviating from the process and / or the established guidelines will result in poor decisions. A nurse with proven critical thinking skills can ingest additional information and sort out important details without allowing extraneous information to influence the call. Patient callers often use subjective language to explain their experience, and a successful telephone triage nurse must be able to separate the ‘objective’ from the ‘subjective’ in order to apply the appropriate triage process to the presenting facts.
- Finally, a successful telephone triage nurse will possess excellent listening skills. In the world of telephone triage, there are no physical cues provided to the RN to help assess the patient’s disposition; thus the nurse is dependent only on what is shared/heard and follow-up clarification. Listening skills – especially hearing and identifying the most important details – are vital to the process. At AccessNurse, we train our nurses to develop such listening skills and verbal indicators throughout the initial training program and beyond.
We like to say that the ‘art’ of telephone triage is a combination of the science of nursing and specially-trained listening skills. Nurses are used to physically multitasking, but telephone nurse triage is very focused mental multitasking. Nurses who are proficient in these four areas will almost always shine in the field of telephone triage.
1Green Carmichael, S. (2019) Hiring the Best People. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/ideacast/2018/01/hiring-the-best-people