Basic Qualities of a Good Triage Nurse
By Marci Lawing, RN, BSN and Ravi K. Raheja, MD
Telephone Triage Nurses are a special breed. Evaluating an individual’s symptoms over the phone presents a unique challenge. Think of working in an ER without your sense of vision, smell, or touch. Nurses are taught to use all 5 senses to triage their patients and when we take away 4 of those, it becomes a challenge for any good triage nurse, not just those who are new to nurse advice lines.
Due to the inability to do a face-to-face assessment, there are specific qualities that are required to be a successful and effective telephone triage nurse.
Dedication to the Job: As telephone triage managers, we have heard “Must be nice to work in your PJ’s,” or “I can do my laundry in between calls or cook dinner for my family! How do I apply?” The reality is that telephone triage can be stressful because of unexpected surges in volume, difficult callers, and the need to constantly be on the lookout for the potentially ill patient. Being a good telephone triage nurse requires you to be committed to patient care and constantly be alert.
Good Listeners: Since the only information a triage nurse gets is verbal communication from the patient or their caregiver, they need to be able to listen carefully to what is being said. The nurse also needs to listen for indirect information such as tone of voice or words that may be concerning.
Multitasking and Critical Thinking Skills: During a routine triage call, the nurse has to call the patient, provide empathy, gather their history, select the correct guideline to triage them based on their symptoms, document the call and follow custom instructions. All of this has to be done while sounding calm and empathetic. Therefore, multitasking and critical thinking are essential to be an effective telephone triage nurse.
Independent Worker: More and more telephone triage nurses are working remotely. Even though manager support is always available, nurses have to make decisions and function more independently than a nurse would in an emergency room or office setting.
Empathetic: Most patients who call the triage service after hours are concerned about a symptom or what needs to be done. One of the most important roles of the triage nurse is to provide empathy and reassurance. In addition to a thorough evaluation, a caring nurse is one of the most essential qualities for any triage nurse.
In the next few weeks, we will be writing about the process to transform a nurse into a Telephone Triage Nurse. Feel free to make comments and give us feedback on any topics that you would like us to discuss.
And don’t forget: if you like the article, please share it with other nurses, triage managers and others looking for more information on how to be an effective triage nurse.