Guidelines for Telephone Triage

Carolyn Buppert, JD, CRNP


Dermatology Nursing. 2009;21(1):40-41. 

In This Article


Telephone triage — taking calls from individuals seeking diagnosis — is a staple of medical practice. It is an undertaking which is full of risk.

A study of the accuracy of diagnosis during telephone triage in general medicine practices had discouraging results. In a survey of 35 clinics, where call-takers included registered nurses, receptionists, and a teenage peer advisor, 37% of call-takers failed to rule out possible ectopic pregnancy when presented with a female caller saying "I am a 16-year-old with belly pain" (Rupp, Ramsey, & Foley, 1994). Problems with the triage process may include:

  • Failure to understand that giving of advice creates a duty to the patient.

  • Failure to get enough information (history) to give appropriate advice.

  • Failure to document the advice given.

  • Call-taker unqualified to give appropriate advice.