Telephone triage performed by nurses reduces non-urgent ambulance missions: a prospective observational pilot study in Finland.

16 januari 2020

BACKGROUND: The increased workload in emergency medical services (EMS) is a global phenomenon in welfare states. It has been suggested that telephone triage by nurses may reduce the increasing use of EMS services, by directing patient flow to appropriate care. This study aimed to investigate whether, after an emergency medical communication centre (EMCC) provider assessed risk, a telephone nurse could assess the patient’s needs and guide patients to social and health care services in non-urgent cases.

METHODS: This prospective observational study was performed in the Kainuu Hospital District in northern Finland from March to April 2018. All EMS requests classified as non-urgent by the EMCC were transferred to a telephone triage nurse. Subsequent patient guidance was recorded. The International Classifications of Primary Care categories were recorded.

RESULTS: We studied phone calls of 700 patients with non-urgent needs. Of these, the nurse transferred 63.7% to EMS and 17.3% were guided to other social and health care services. Nineteen per cent of the calls were handled over the phone by the nurse, who provided health advice and instructions. The most common needs for care were general and unspecified symptoms, musculoskeletal symptoms, mental health problems and substance abuse.

CONCLUSION: Telephone triage, including telephone counselling, care instructions, and directing patients to other social and health services than EMS, reduced non-urgent EMS missions by one third. The results imply that telephone triage could be a viable model for managing non-urgent missions. Patient safety issues should be monitored when developing new service concepts.

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