Before You Go to the ER, Call Your Nurse Advice Line

Thursday, January 6th, 2011
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

Your insurance card is probably more valuable than you think. After hearing Optima Health’s Pat Curtis describe Optima’s nurse advice line during today’s webinar, I checked the back of my insurance card. Sure enough, there’s a toll-free phone number for a health information line that will put me in touch with a care consultant who can educate me about my health condition or diagnosis and help me determine whether a doctor visit or self-care is the best option.

That’s the logic behind Optima’s nurse advice line, which handles anywhere from 10,000 to 12,500 calls per month with a staff of up to 12 professionals. According to market research we conducted earlier this year, about a third of healthcare organizations have launched some type of health information line to guide individuals to the most appropriate care venue. Some are staffed by nurses, others by doctors, and still others by both RNs and physicians.

Companies like Optima Health, Wellpoint and Kaiser Permanente are finding that an effective nurse advice line can greatly reduce the number of ER visits for routine health issues. Of its total monthly calls, Curtis said 15 percent are triaged to the emergency room, 20 percent to urgent care, and 30 percent to a physician’s office. The call abandon rate is less than 5 percent, and about 35 percent of calls end up with advice only, said Curtis, director of operations for clinical care services for Optima Health. Top health complaints processed by Optima’s nurse advice line are coughs, fever and vomiting. The healthcare company developed its own protocols that have been physician-reviewed, but there are off-the-shelf protocol packages available, she said.

Listen to an interview with Pat Curtis.

The service has also begun scheduling appointments for patients at selected physician offices as part of a Patient-Centered Medical Home project, and in the near future hopes to launch e-assessments that can be completed online by the patients and use secure e-mail to handle health complaints.

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