Telephonic Triage: Streamlined Employee Injury Care
- By Curt DeWeese, Maura Keller
- Nov 10, 2021
For the last few years, telehealth technology has targeted rural populations, including individuals who often skip regular checkups or lack the money or transportation needed to get prescription medication, with the long-term goal of limiting their chance of hospital admission. Now, however, companies of all sizes are embracing telephonic nurse triage, as a workplace early intervention program for soft tissue injuries commonly referred to as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) or other injuries to prevent minor issues from becoming OSHA recordable claims.
So, why is this early intervention telephonic methodology an important one for companies to consider? According to Curt DeWeese, PT, CEAS, Atlas Injury Prevention Solutions, it comes down to intervening quickly and efficiently to determine the appropriate approach to take in assisting an employee with an MSD or other injury concerns. Most MSDs, when caught early, resolve with ice, stretching and over-the-counter medicines and do not require an employee to visit a doctor, urgent care or emergency room. In fact, a telephonic triage nurse can often resolve minor MSD concerns without additional, costly medical care.
Companies need to consider a 24/7 telephonic nurse triage service as an expanded solution to their onsite workplace early intervention first aid services. The goal should be being able to provide around the clock coverage for management of concerns without sending employees to urgent care, the emergency room or an occupational medical clinic. These care locations are often the busiest and highest cost entry points to the healthcare system and also where employees are most likely to get taken out of work or given a prescription medication.
“Employers are looking for an alternate way to provide care for their employees,” DeWeese says. “Every workplace early intervention program should consider a nurse triage solution if appropriate. It is tied to providing care for an employee without requiring them to go to a medical facility. It is an ideal option for people who are working in a 24/7 industry, remote or transient jobsites and places where injury rates are high, but the employee count is low at any one location.”
Traditionally an injured employee would report to a supervisor who would advise the person to leave work and go to an urgent care, an emergency room or perhaps a medical facility the next day. But a 24/7 telephonic nurse triage service can support employees on an “as needed” basis, immediately. An employee can be provided a private area to speak to a nurse who triages the concern and based on a care algorithm, determines the appropriate care direction.
Typically, there are four level of care direction. Self-care where the employee is instructed in first aid use of ice, heat and over-the-counter medications. Care within 24 hours where the employee is to seek medical evaluation and care within 24 hours. For more serious concerns, the remaining care direction is for care within four hours which does not require the employee to drop everything and go to the emergency room. Rather, they can wait a few hours to get care, such as when an urgent care or occupational medicine clinic opens in the morning. For the most serious issues, the employee is directed to emergency care where an ambulance should be called or the employee needs to be taken to the hospital immediately.
In all cases, it is vital for a medically qualified individual to assess an employee’s discomfort correctly and determine the proper course of action.
In many situations, employee MSD discomfort can be addressed with traditional OSHA approved first aid care.
Making it Successful
So why is this early intervention telephonic methodology an important one to employ? According to DeWeese, “it comes down to intervening quickly and efficiently to determine the appropriate approach needed for care of an MSD concern or other medical issue. Triage telephone contact with a registered nurse initiates the timely use of ice and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, while removing care decision making from supervisors and provides employees with the immediate care recommendations they need.”
Not only does this address the employee’s medical situation immediately, but it decreases workers’ compensation claims and it also decreases the associated costs and lost time.
DeWeese indicates the financial benefit by suggesting, “with telephonic triage, you are only paying when you use the service. Many workplace early intervention first aid programs are primarily focused on MSD conditions, such as strains and sprains and overuse injuries. Telephonic triage provides an intervention for all types of injuries.”
The success of telephonic nurse triage speaks for itself in the rate of reduction in cases going to the emergency room or urgent care: DeWeese says he sees an average about a 38 to 40 percent reduction rate across the companies that utilize this service.
“By having this resource available, when someone feels they need to get looked at but they first talk with the triage nurse, roughly 40 percent of employees say, ‘I’m good with what I’ve done here and I don’t need to go to urgent care,’” DeWeese says. “As an employee, you also are able to talk with someone who is not employed by your company. The employee realizes that they are talking with someone who has their best interest at the forefront. And that this nurse is making the decision on their behalf, not on what is best for the company.”