By Charu Raheja, PhD
Managing patient calls effectively is critical to ensure high-quality, well-coordinated care for every patient. Make sure the people answering your phones triage patients efficiently and effectively. Establish a consistent nurse triage system to improve the way you manage patient calls, improve patient satisfaction, and decrease unnecessary medical expenses. Triage nurses can direct patients to the appropriate care for their symptoms and give patients peace of mind by addressing their concerns.
The benefits of nurse triage are better patient access, coordinated care, and cost savings. In addition, nurse triage gives patients better access to providers even if they aren’t seeking emergency care. This improves patient satisfaction, prevents future complications, and allows providers to educate patients.
With technology advances, several cost-effective opportunities are available to provide nurse triage services. Here are three key options to set up a nurse advice line:
1. Do It Yourself: Start Your Own Call Center
Opening your own call center involves setting up the call center infrastructure. The requirements depend on the scale and number of calls received. For daytime calls, many practices choose to have their own staff nurses take calls using daytime triage protocols.
These protocols are available in book form or in electronic format. For night calls, the requirements include hiring an experienced call center manager, purchasing triage software for nighttime protocols, and hiring clinical and nonclinical staff to handle patient calls.
Pro: Having your own system gives your staff the flexibility to perform multiple tasks in addition to triage, such as physician referrals, scheduling, disease management, class registration, and surveys.
Con: Setting up a call center requires a high investment. It is labor intensive for the nursing department, and it requires human resources and IT involvement. Moreover, there are significant differences in terms of hardware requirements and capabilities with various software programs, so it’s important to do your research and speak with a variety of vendors. This is a long-term project with a slow return on investment.
The organizations most likely to succeed with this approach are larger facilities with high call volumes who expect to handle over 50,000 triage calls a year. These companies are ideal because they likely already have some call center infrastructure in place and just need to add to it. The high call volume also allows the center to use nurses’ time efficiently.
2. Outsource to a Nurse Triage Center
If setting up your own call center seems daunting, you could use an outside vendor for nurse triage calls.
Pro: This option has a low start-up cost. You don’t need to train triage nurses. And there’s no human resources or IT component. Since the vendor is already taking calls, start-up is quick, and there’s an immediate return on investment. In addition, vendors may have more expertise in the niche area of triage, resulting in better care for patients.
Con: When outsourcing patient calls, you have less direct control over the nurses. Also, some nurse triage vendors can’t integrate with electronic medical records (EMR).
For the best outcome, be careful when interviewing vendors and make sure you’re comfortable with them. Be aware that costs vary depending on the vendor. While you “get what you pay for,” you get less from some than others. Assuming you’ve done your homework, outsourcing is a good option for small- to medium-size practices.
3. Use a Combination of In-House and Outsourced Services
In this model a healthcare organization uses its own nurse triage software and nurses during high call volumes and outsources the triage to a service during low call volumes. Call center technology, integration engines, and communication platforms can accomplish this seamlessly.
Pro: A combined model can expand services and decrease costs. Most triage centers lose money when the call volume is low because nurses sit idle waiting for phone calls. By outsourcing calls during low traffic times, the call center can provide service at a reduced cost.
Your organization can continue to provide the same level or increased levels of service and at the same time decrease operating costs. This also allows organizations to keep their current infrastructure and resources.
Con: Just as with the previous option, it’s critical to find the right partner who has the technology and service-level knowledge to implement a combined model. If their system doesn’t align with yours, an interruption in patient care will result.
This option works best for organizations that have some existing nurse triage infrastructure. Again, it’s crucial to select your call center partner carefully. Discuss your software and services with your partner before making a commitment.
Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service, whether in-house, outsourced, or a combination, is a seamless experience for your patients.
It’s important to explore options for managing patient calls to find the solution and product that aligns with your needs.
Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic, a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call.