Telephone triage is an important part of healthcare delivery in the UK. Even with COVID-19 demands showing signs of slowing down, resources are still stretched and must be allocated in the most efficient and effective ways.

Here we look at the different types of triage calls healthcare professionals receive, along with the challenges they bring.

The concept behind telephone triage 

Telephone triage is based on the idea that staff can offer advice about the context and timing of care to callers based on the symptoms they are presenting with. Supported by their training, knowledge and evidence-based guidelines, healthcare professionals can then:

  • Ask carefully considered questions to help interpret symptoms and determine the severity of the patient’s condition
  • Recommend a care pathway to patients that may involve self-care at home, or an escalation to a specific professional level or area if more serious.

Types of callers

Telephone triaging is a very interesting area of healthcare as no two calls are ever the same. Calls span all age ranges, with many patients being elderly, vulnerable or who speak English as a second language.

Callers themselves in fact play a key part in how effective and successful the telephone triage will be. They are therefore classified into groups, and which group a caller will come under is determined by how close they are to the patient. There are three categories: first party, second party and third party callers.

First party

This is where the caller is also the patient.

Second party

Second party callers are with the patient, or very close to them.

Third party

Callers in the third group are not present with the patient at all.

Now we’ll look at each type of caller in more detail

First party callers

First party callers are ideal because they are speaking on their own behalf about their own symptoms. This means there’s also no issues with patient privacy and the information they give is most likely to be accurate. For example, the parent of a sixteen-year-old girl with abdominal pain may not provide an accurate response to a question like, “Is there a possibility she could be pregnant?”. In this scenario, the patient herself is more likely to divulge the information directly to the healthcare provider.

There’s also less chance of any misunderstandings caused by relaying information backwards and forwards between multiple people.

Then there’s second party callers

Second party callers are those who are calling on someone else’s behalf. The caller may be very close to the patient, both physically and emotionally, which is often very helpful. However, second party callers may not totally appreciate the extent of the patient’s symptoms, for example their anxiety or pain levels. The information they are giving therefore tends to be ‘interpreted’ by them and there’s a process of relaying information which may make progress slower.

Of course, if the second caller is able to hand the phone to the patient themselves, then the call is now with a first party caller. This is preferable. However, if the patient is severely unwell, doesn’t have capacity or doesn’t speak English, then there may be little choice but to triage a second party caller.

Finally third party callers

Third party callers can be tricky to triage effectively, as the information provided is often a little ‘hear-say’.

As the caller isn’t physically close to the patient, they aren’t therefore able to observe their condition or ask them questions. This means the goal here is therefore to convert them to second party callers (or even first party).

Sometimes this simply isn’t possible and so the only option is to carry out a triage exercise with a third party caller. Where this is case, healthcare providers can only work with the limited information they have. However, without the ability to ascertain the exact condition of the patient, it’s generally safer to adopt a ‘worst case scenario’ mindset and automatically escalate toward higher levels of care.

Could your triage skills do with a boost?

If so, you may well find PDUK’s popular scheduled course Telephone triage refresh & refine extremely helpful. Aimed at nurses, doctors, health visitors and other allied health professionals, this interactive study day is aimed at the experienced telephone triage practitioner. It provides participants with a review of basic skills and looks at more challenging issues too.

The course will be held online via Zoom and is a one-day course offering 7 hours of CPD. Alternatively, there’s also our Telephone triage for HCAs and receptionists online course. It also represents 7 hours of CPD and is a highly flexible way of learning that’s ideal for social distancing. Great for training larger groups, our online courses are hands-on and interactive and can be tailored to your requirements.

Whichever course you choose all materials and certificates will be provided, but spaces are limited so sign up now!

You can find out further information and book a place online via our web site.–refine