Telephone Triage: Refresh & Refine

Telephone Triage is a process in which practitioners speak with patients on the phone and assess whether they need a face-to-face appointment or can be helped over the phone. It’s particularly useful where patients are simply seeking test results or wish to discuss X-rays or hospital letters.

However, where face-to-face consultation and treatment is required, a further appointment will be offered. It’s something which has also become much more commonplace since the pandemic.

Here we look very briefly at the four stages of telephone triage and what should happen in each.

  1. The introductions

First off, clinicians should introduce themselves using their name and organisation. Try and speak directly to the patient if possible. However, if not, establish who you are speaking to and what their relationship is to the patient, for confidentiality reasons.

It’s better to speak to the patient themselves, if at all possible, as a first-hand account, rather than via a third party, tends to be more accurate.

  1. Gathering information

Listen to the caller giving their own account of the problem in their own words, without any interruptions. You might find the five ‘W’s helpful:

  • What is the problem?
  • Where is the problem occurring?
  • When does the problem happen?
  • What makes the problem better or worse?
  • What is the timeframe for the problem?

Once you have this information you should be able to get a better background to the issue and can begin diagnosis.

  1. The action plan

Make sure the patient is clear about the next steps and has understood. You’re looking for a win/win here, where some negotiation may be necessary. But the important thing is that a plan of action is explained to the patient clearly and concisely.

  1. Concluding the call

By the end of the call, a clear outcome and next steps should be agreed between yourself as a clinician, and the patient. A summary of what was discussed is recommended too – something along the lines of: “Just to recap, we’ve agreed that you will begin a course of X medication, taking X number of tablets a day for a trial period of X. If there’s no improvement by then, we’ll speak again with a view to a referral.”

Make it clear that the patient must call back if symptoms worsen or dial 999 in an emergency.

Looking to update your triage skills?

If so, you may well find our excellent scheduled course Telephone triage refresh & refine extremely helpful. Ideal for nurses, doctors, health visitors and other allied health professionals, this interactive one-day course is aimed at the experienced telephone triage practitioner. It provides participants with a review of basic skills and looks at more challenging issues.

Worth 7 hours of CPD, it’s held entirely online. This means it’s easy to log on remotely to build your skills and gain those all-important CPD hours in a way that suits you. 

Alternatively, there’s also our Telephone triage for HCAs course. Also held online over one day – and worth 7 hours of CPD – it’s designed specifically for HCAs and HCSWs. Covering standards of customer care and many other facets of telephone triage, it’s aimed at those looking to boost their confidence in this subject. 

Whichever course you choose, all materials and certificates will be provided. However, they’re always very popular and spaces are limited so book up now!