Keep Your Triage Nurses from Handling Basic Phone Calls

If you have a call center staffed with nurses to handle triage calls, you need to make sure the work your nurses do matches their level of compensation. Some work in a triage call center doesn’t require the attention of someone with healthcare training. Depending on your geographic area, the hourly cost for a nurse is two to three times the cost of a typical call center agent. Your goal is to have nurses handle calls that require their expertise, and have all other calls go to less expensive non-nursing personnel. Here are some activities you don’t want your nurses to handle: Give Out Information: Regardless of the type of call center you operate, some callers will want basic information. This could include your location, hours of operation, basic insurance information, and so forth. Though this type of FAQ information is commonly available online, some people will not check there or not find it. As a result they’ll call you to find out the answers they seek. Take Messages: Your call center may receive calls from patients who want to communicate with a doctor or employee. This could include asking for a call back or leaving information that the person needs to receive from you. Someone in the call center needs to take these messages. Dispatch Urgent Calls: Sometimes a caller requires a quick response, and these calls must be dispatched to the appropriate personnel. This dispatching effort could include reaching an on-call person at home or via cell phone, sending an email or text, or following other contact protocols. If the on-call person can’t be reached, there needs to be an escalation procedure of who to reach next. Set Appointments: Some callers want to set an appointment. While you could take a message and relay it to the office in the morning, a better solution is to set the appointment right then. Most scheduling programs have a module for secure internet access. Your call center agents can access this scheduling software and set an appointment for the patient. This serves to keep the schedule optimally booked for both staff and equipment. Confirm Appointments: A missed appointment is costly and ineffective. Reminder calls, emails, and texts can decrease the likelihood of a missed appointment. While these can all be automated, a personal phone call can have the highest rate of success with patients who have a history of missed appointments. Agents are also the ones most likely to discover if a patient can’t make an appointment, which allows for the possibility to fill the now-open slot. Handle Physician Referrals: A call from someone looking for a healthcare provider represents a lifetime worth of healthcare services and corresponding revenue. Therefore, this incredibly valuable call must be handled with the utmost efficiency. Call center agents can help match the caller with the provider who best meets their needs and expectations. Screen Calls: Many triage call centers have non-nursing staff screen incoming calls. This frees up nurses to handle only those calls that require their medical expertise. Call screeners can handle the above scenarios, such as giving out information, taking messages, dispatching calls, setting and confirming appointments, and handling physician referrals. They can also direct emergencies to the ER, or set the appropriate expectations for callers who don’t need triage assistance. Conclusion: While the goal is to direct nonhealthcare-related calls to call center agents, nurses should be trained to handle these calls, if needed. However, the ideal is to be appropriately staffed with non-nursing personnel to make this possibility rare. By appropriately staffing your healthcare call center with nurses and agents, you are poised to handle the needs of callers in the most cost-effective manner. As an alternative, you can outsource the non-nursing calls to a healthcare outsource call center. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center industry and who offers a healthcare call center matchmaking service. Contact Janet at or call 800-901-7706.Peter Lyle DeHaan  is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.