Since the Affordable Care Act was introduced, healthcare organizations nationwide have been under pressure to reduce costs while improving patient outcomes. In response, they increasingly turn to telehealth to serve their patients’ needs through nurse advice lines (NALs), virtual triage, virtual visits, remote patient monitoring and other telehealth services.
Related: The Difference Between Telehealth and Telemedicine
If your healthcare organization is looking to make patient care more cost-effective and convenient for doctors and patients alike, a nurse advice line might be the solution.
We’ll discuss nurse advice lines, their benefits, and tips to implement and optimize them alongside your other telehealth solutions.
What Is a Nurse Advice Line?
A nurse advice line—also called telephone triage services— gives patients access to real-time healthcare assessments. NALs also help those patients determine the level of care they need immediately via a phone call.
Registered nurses typically run a nurse advice line using a combination of medical guidelines, critical thinking skills, and technology to assess the severity of a patient’s symptoms. Ultimately, nurse advice line workers determine the most appropriate care advice.
Nurse advice line clinicians are trained to focus on the disposition and assessment of symptom-based calls—they can also educate callers about medications, potential interactions, and possible side effects.
Healthcare systems throughout the US use nurse advice lines and telephone triage systems to recommend patients to the appropriate intensity of care—hundreds of millions of people in the US have access to these services.
In addition, 68% of patients that called a nurse advice line made changes to their healthcare plans after the call—46% of those patients chose a lower intensity of care. These changes in healthcare plans can save healthcare organizations and their patients a significant amount valuable time and money.
How to Implement a Nurse Advice Line
Nurse advice lines are an integral part of the solution to unsustainable healthcare costs—they help reduce unnecessary urgent care, primary care, and emergency room visits. Implementing a nurse advice line starts with finding the right virtual triage provider.
Looking for a virtual triage provider that offers a personalized experience to your patients, improving patient satisfaction and retention by four times? Well, you found us!
Consider these five tips from our virtual triage experts at Clearstep:
- Look for telehealth providers that are established URAC-accredited vendors.
- Ensure that your virtual triage provider stores patient and client data securely.
- Decide what features your NAL needs (24/7 access, EMR integration, etc.).
- Choose a provider that uses Schmitt-Thompson triage protocols.
- Find a vendor with a proven track record with institutions similar to yours.
Benefits of NALs for Your Healthcare System
Many healthcare systems offer a nurse advice line to their patients for different reasons with different goals in mind. However, there are many common benefits that organizations can observe regardless of their focus—those benefits include the following:
- Comprehensive symptom-based assessments that utilize appropriate clinical protocols
- Boosted patient retention and acquisition through word of mouth
- Better care coordination by directing patients to an appropriate level of care, reducing costs
- Improved coordination of scheduling and care
- Stronger management of calls during busy times
- Elevated patient service speed and delivery
- Complete encounter documentation and customizable reporting
- Higher-quality clinical support interactions
- Improved response times and patient satisfaction
- Increased patient engagement and compliance with preventive screenings, treatment recommendations, etc.
- Reduced expenses from unnecessary patient emergency room visits
- Improved patient medication adherence due to health education efforts
- EMR/CRM integrations to store data, escalate calls, etc.
Related: Reduce Inappropriate ER Visits With These Strategies
5 Steps to Optimize Your Nurse Advice Line
Follow these five tips to optimize your NAL and telehealth services to increase patient engagement, satisfaction, and retention:
1. Ensure Your Patients Know About Your Nurse Advice Line
Communicate with patients in your organization and let them know they can access your nurse advice line for free at their convenience. Emphasize that they can use it at no cost to receive quick answers from anywhere—home, school, office, etc.
2. Automate Common Patient Requests
You can also integrate your NAL with technology like AI chatbots to automate patient requests—finding a provider or service, checking insurance eligibility, etc. Nurse advice lines help patients avoid long waiting times, and you can further satisfy them by automating complex workflows like scheduling follow-up appointments and refilling prescriptions.
3. Combine Your NAL With Your Telehealth Solutions
Another way to boost the value of your nurse advice line is by coupling it with other high-value services, like virtual care, virtual triage, and customer service. You can make your customer service and NAL calls a one-stop shop for advice, care guidance, and triage. Then, on regular calls, you can direct patients to your nurse advice line if they need to speak to an RN.
4. Offer 24/7 Service
The average wait time for a healthcare appointment has increased significantly over the years—the nationwide average is 26 days (an increase of 24% from 2004 and 8% from 2017). Today’s patients are less tolerant of small inconveniences and demand quick care when and where they want it.
The demand for 24/7 care access puts patient satisfaction at risk and contributes to physician burnout, negatively affecting performance and overall outcomes. The solution is offering 24/7 care through telehealth, virtual triage, nurse advice lines, etc.
Related: Physician Burnout: Symptoms, Solutions, and More
5. Leverage Multiple Communication Channels
Don’t rely solely on a nurse advice line to help your patients with virtual care—you want to take advantage of multiple communication channels, including AI chat, healthcare portals, virtual triage, texting capabilities, and ways to support them post-diagnosis and post-discharge.
Learn about our virtual triage solutions that integrate with online scheduling, provide care access, complement call centers, and more!
Increase Your Communication Channels With Clearstep
Did you know that you don’t necessarily need a dedicated nurse advice line to offer your patients the benefits associated with having one? You can start much simpler and quicker —with Clearstep.
We can enhance your non-clinical call centers with our clinically-validated virtual triage solution, making them as qualified and effective as a nurse advice line for accurately triaging patients and providing them with the appropriate level of care.
And if you already have a nurse advice line, you can avoid overflowing the lines with unnecessary calls by deflecting them to our self-service triage, saving those resources for patients that need to speak with someone immediately.