Phone triage nurses are registered nurses who help patients who can’t see a doctor to answer their health questions over the telephone. Also referred to as telehealth nursing and telepathology, telephone triage is a unique nursing specialty focused on assessing patients’ symptoms at a distance. Phone triage nurses are trained to ask a specific group of questions to determine the severity of the patient’s condition and rank them based on urgency. Telehealth nurses then play a prominent role in guiding patients to a proper healthcare provider so that they’re not clogging emergency rooms. As the demand on the medical system is expanding, telephone triage is becoming popular in hospitals, urgent care centers, physician offices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for RNs working in America is currently $69,790, which is equivalent to a mean hourly wage of $33.55. Phone triage nurses who work for physician offices will make considerably less than average at $63,800, but those employed by outpatient care centers earn the highest mean income at $72,390 annually.

Beginning Salary

When first entering the telehealth nursing field, new RNs can expect to land in the bottom tenth percentile of yearly earnings with an income of $45,880. With added years of experience and more leadership duties, phone triage nurses can eventually bring home a sizeable six-figure paycheck over $98,880 each year.

Key Responsibilities

Phone triage nurses are given the primary responsibility of answering calls from concerned patients and appropriately assessing their health status by voice alone. Telephone triage nurses will carefully listen to the caller’s symptoms before developing an assessment plan to ascertain further knowledge about their condition. In some cases, triage nurses will also have access to patients’ health records online to better assist in reviewing their medical history. Once all information is collected, nurses can recommend the best treatment, refer local doctors, or educate patients for at-home care. Phone triage nurses often solely work through the telephone, but some will take on this task along with other in-person patient care duties.

Necessary Skills

Being successful as a phone triage nurse requires that you’re an extremely skilled listener with an ability to notice any subtle vocal indications or hesitations that could signal trouble. Phone triage nurses must possess solid clinical judgment skills to immediately direct patients on the best course of treatment. Quick decision-making abilities are important for phone triage nurses to correctly determine whether patients have a medical emergency. Phone triage nurses should have excellent computer skills to type information being given by patients. Of course, being a good communicator with compassionate interpersonal skills is another must. Phone triage nurses should also have the linguistic skills to care for patients speaking other languages.

Degree and Education Requirements

Working as a telephone triage nurse will require becoming an RN. Depending on your state, there’s three education pathways you can take. Earning a one-year hospital-based diploma or a two-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college may be sufficient. Most employers will prefer hiring nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a four-year accredited university though. Taking elective coursework related to poison control, disease management, diagnostic monitoring, crisis intervention, health education, and pharmacology will be helpful in this specialty. Going the extra step to receive a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) could be advantageous to advance as a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.

Pros and Cons of the Position

As with any other nursing career, specializing in telepathology will come with its fair share of advantages and drawbacks that you’ll have to weigh. On the bright side, phone triage nurses have one of the most flexible RN specialties because they can work in virtually any healthcare facility and even telecommute from home. There are no physical fitness requirements, so older or disabled nurses can easily work in telephone triage. Phone triage nurses make a decent salary and can expect favorable job prospects for the foreseeable future. There’s also less threat of contracting infections or illnesses because contact is from a distance. On the other hand, phone triage nurses work mostly behind a desk and rarely interact with patients. Some find telehealth nursing more difficult than beside care because it’s challenging to assess a patient’s condition over speakers. Telephone triage is also a high-risk area filled with pressure because malpractice lawsuits are all too common.

Getting Started

After you earn your degree, you’ll have the qualifications to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become appropriately licensed through your state’s board of nursing. You can then begin legally practicing as a registered nurse by taking on entry-level staff nursing jobs. Even if the positions are part-time, you’ll start to build your resume with relevant clinical experience that will be vital later on in telepathology. Taking continuing education courses related to risk or crisis management is recommended to build your professional judgment in telephone triage. Although the certification in telehealth nursing was discontinued in 2007, it’s still advised that you pursue some form of certification credentials to prove your authority. Many phone triage nurses decide to become certified through the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN). You’ll need to have active RN licensure, two years of full-time experience, and at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice in ambulatory care settings.

Future Outlook

In today’s fast-paced, digital world, patients want quick answers to their questions. Medical costs are on the rise, so patients depend on telephone triage nurses to receive feedback about their health concerns without paying for an ER visit. Our nation’s massive baby boomer population is reaching later adulthood and spiking demand for telehealth nursing services to evaluate their acute or chronic symptoms. The BLS reports that the overall employment of RNs will grow much faster than average by 19 percent before 2022, thus creating around 526,800 jobs. Telephone triage nurses may face heated competition though because telecommuting is rising in popularity. Having at least a bachelor’s degree and certification will make you marketable.

Overall, phone triage nurses are skilled RNs who use verbal cues to assess the severity of patients’ medical situations over the telephone. Telehealth nurses listen to their patients’ symptoms to determine whether they need to seek immediate emergency care, make a doctor’s appointment, or simply care for their ailment at home. Becoming a phone triage nurse can be a rewarding choice for nurses who desire workplace flexibility above face-to-face patient care.

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