Question about nursing triage

Q. We recently received an inquiry from a family practice regarding nursing triage over the phone.  The practice would like to know whether both registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can perform telephone triage?

A. In order to alleviate any immediate confusion, LPNs are not permitted to perform triage in New York State.

RNs in New York are licensed to perform an assessment, which is a critical part of telephone triage.   An RN is permitted to help patients to determine what type of care they need over the phone.  For example, RNs can provide cursory assessments of patients and help them decide if the need to seek emergency treatment or make an appointment with a physician.  This process does not result in a diagnosis.  It is important to understand that basic nursing education does not necessarily include telephone triage training and evidence of specialized training may be necessary.

It is extremely important for medical practices and groups to have standardized policies and procedures in place when implementing a nursing triage system.   The use of standardized checklists and tools should be considered to assure consistency and account for any knowledge deficiencies.  The telephone triage system should also be periodically monitored for accuracy and efficiency.