March 21, 1997

Pediatric Care now a call away – New Telephone triage program to aid patients

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Cheryl Evans (left), Betty Brashear and Becki Ellis work the phones for VUMC's new Telephone Triage Program.

Pediatric Care now a call away – New Telephone triage program to aid patients

Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently debuted a new program to assist area pediatricians with after-hours calls from patients.

Now in its third week, the Telephone Triage Program has already received over 300 calls from parents with questions about how best to handle their sick child's condition.

"If a parent has a health concern about their child after hours, they can call their pediatrician's office and be connected to a triage nurse for assessment of symptoms and determination of the level of care indicated," said Betty Brashear, R.N., director of the Telephone Triage Program.

The program is set up to handle the calls physicians receive during the evenings, nights and weekends and is designed to be an extension of the office practice and to assist on-call physicians in receiving those calls which require physician evaluation. It also will help, when warranted, to divert calls away from more costly care in the emergency department.

For now the program focuses on pediatric cases, but Brashear hopes to expand it to include adult cases in the future.

Previously, parents were left to decide whether their child's condition called for a visit to the emergency room. The new triage program allows parents to receive advice from a registered nurse.

"If it is determined that the case is of an emergent nature, the physician is contacted to determine an appropriate disposition for care," said Brashear.

While aimed at cutting down on unnecessary visits to the emergency room, the new telephone triage system also gives patients a more active voice in the process.

"Sometimes patients feel they are not being heard because they call and talk to a different person each time," said Brashear. "With this system, we can not only give advice on how to alleviate the problem but also identify patients who may have health issues which could benefit by education and/or physician intervention before a problem occurs."

The software used to manage the system also allows doctors to input standard treatment therapies for all their patients. For example, if a particular physician prescribes a certain cough syrup to all patients, that information can be entered into the system so the nurse who answers a call from a patient will have that information when making a recommendation.

The Telephone Triage Program was initiated at the request of the Cumberland Pediatric Foundation (CPF) and was developed under the direction of Dr. Harold Vann, clinical professor of Pediatrics and medical director of the CPF.

"We are purposely starting gradually, with one pediatrician group, to allow identification of equipment and staff issues which may need early intervention," Brashear said.

During the next few months the telephone triage program will grow and additional pediatric practices, as well as general adult practices, will be added as clients.

For more information on the Telephone Triage Progra, contact Brashear at 936-3733.