Symptom Checkers and Nurse Telephone Triage

More than 80% of Internet users have searched for health-related information. They’re checking on symptoms, trying to figure out what to do or where to go. Nurse telephone triage meets this same basic need: helping people get to the right location for care at the right time.

Often the best service for your patients can be provided by combining these two solutions. But before doing so it’s important to understand some key differences between them.

Online symptom checkers:

  1. Are convenient, empowering patients to self-triage many issues without calling your office
  2. Can reduce calls to your triage line (one informal study indicated a 30% reduction in nurse triage calls)
  3. Are best for common, less complicated issues

Nurse telephone triage:

  1. Appeals to patients who want the reassurance of talking to a trusted member of your care team
  2. Can provide higher safety and accuracy in the triage of the call as well as reduced ED utilization (based on using the experience and skills of the triage nurse)
  3. Is appropriate for calls of any complexity level
  4. Documents the call in your EHR

When both solutions are offered, the combination can maximize the quality and convenience of care for your patients. But it’s important to make sure the guidance given in each solution complements rather than conflicts with the other. Using the same clinical content authors for each solution makes this possible.

The nurse triage protocols in ClearTriage are authored by Dr. Barton Schmitt and Dr. David Thompson. These same doctors have written matching consumer-facing protocols with simpler questions, slightly more conservative dispositions (since a medical professional isn’t doing the triage), and availability in both English and Spanish at a 6th grade reading level. Their symptom checker had the highest combination of safety and accuracy during triage of any symptom checker tested in a detailed BMJ study.

By combining nurse telephone triage and self triage based on Schmitt-Thompson protocols, you can provide a complete, customer-centric solution for your patients. They will get consistent and accurate advice whether they use your website, call your nurses or both. Plus, it improves your position as the source of authoritative medical information for your patients, and the care advice online matches the care advice in the handouts sent by your nurses using ClearTriage!

Two companies provide versions of the Schmitt-Thompson symptom checker that you can add to your organization’s website or mobile app. We recommend you talk to both of them to determine the right solution for your needs.



In a previous ClearTriage blog article, we interviewed Paul Vanchiere of the Pediatric Management Institute and explored the value of providing nurse telephone triage to improve patient satisfaction and retention. A symptom checker can provide similar benefits while also improving the authority and value of your website. Together, nurse triage and an online symptom checker are a powerful combination for serving your patients and managing healthcare costs.

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