During the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, telephone triage has been a saving grace in the prevention of unnecessary spreading of the disease. It keeps unnecessary traffic out of medical facilities and limits the time people spend there waiting. Telephone triage for COVID-19 cases is therefore essential for not only the treatment of infected persons but also for limiting further viral transmission.
There are few on the planet who do not have at least basic familiarity with the COVID-19 virus, but let us elucidate some basic details. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and spreads primarily through contact with the droplets of infected people. These may include respiratory droplets, saliva droplets or more indirect mucous contact.
The symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, shortness of breath, muscle ache, fever or chills, fatigue, headache, and a new loss of taste or smell. More serious cases may experience trouble breathing, persistent pain in the chest, or gray- or blue-colored skin or lips. Telephone triage for COVID-19 producing these symptoms will likely be referred to immediate care.
Who Is at Risk?
Unprotected exposure to an infected person within six feet for more than 15 minutes is considered sufficient for likely contraction of COVID-19. This makes congregate settings like care centers, homeless shelters, and public events a target. Severity of infection typically increases with age and the presence of immunocompromising conditions.
Those within the medical community—who spend significant time with infected persons—are at risk of contracting COVID-19. Dentists are the most in danger of exposure, working closely to potentially infected saliva. Fortunately for them, however, a dental office already has stringent disinfection protocols and personal protective gear measures. Other medical facilities limit the risk present to their personnel by implementing similar policies.
Telephone Triage for COVID-19
Not all patients with COVID-19 require hospital admission. In fact, telephone triage for COVID-19 cases or suspected COVID-19 cases can mitigate unwarranted admission volumes into healthcare facilities. In the case that admission is required, triage gives clinicians the opportunity to assess severity before the infected person comes in for treatment.
The pervasiveness of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many medical facilities and providers to change the way they balance remote and in-person care. Telemedicine, which was already making strides before the pandemic, is an ever-improving use of technology that allows for rapid diagnosis and disease management while limiting exposure and risk of virus transmission. Those patients who are recommended to come in for medical treatment after telephone triage for COVID-19 symptoms should be admitted under appropriate and facility-endorsed precautions and policies to prevent further viral transmission.
A Benefit for All
Though the COVID-19 threat no longer looms in its recent dangerous volumes, case numbers can still be mitigated with the use of telephone triage measures. In fact, utilizing telephone triage for COVID-19 as well as for other unrelated conditions can keep COVID-19 case levels from spiking again.
Triage conducted over the phone can reduce the need for potentially infected persons to physically come into a medical facility. In cases with minimal symptoms, home-based rest may be the best treatment as the virus takes its course, and diagnosing that before the patient ever leaves the confines of their home can protect uninfected persons with whom they may come in contact.
For those who do require in-hospital care, telephone triage can limit the time infected persons spend in emergency or waiting rooms. By reducing that time, others in such healthcare facilities who do not have the COVID-19 virus are less likely to contract it since prolonged exposure is more likely to result in transmission.
Telephone triage used by those without COVID-19 can also limit the virus’ spread. People who are immunocompromised or susceptible due to ailments other than COVID-19 may not need to come into clinics or hospitals for the treatment of their conditions. Triage over the phone can help such individuals decide if the care they need requires them to come in person.
If it does not, they need not risk further infection. If it does, triage can still help them spend less time in healthcare facilities, where risk of COVID-19 contraction is higher. Nosocomial infections—those contracted in a hospital setting—can be avoided with telehealth and telephone triage.
The global pandemic has fundamentally changed society’s view of work attitudes, medical treatment, and patient management. However, due to their very nature, medical services cannot be based exclusively on remote care. Physician interaction in person with a patient is still crucial, so while telephone triage for COVID-19 cases is tremendously beneficial, it is only the beginning of the solution.