Wilmot’s Triage Nurses Provide Critical Link for Patients and Their Teams
For Emily Patterson, R.N., B.S.N., and Chris Marrocco, R.N., B.S.N., a typical Monday means roughly 300 phone calls, a flood of faxes and all kinds of questions.
I have a fever. Is there anything I can take?
I’m short of breath. Do I really have to go to the emergency room?
My husband’s trach fell out. What do we do?
As Wilmot’s telephone triage nurses, Patterson and Marrocco have to be prepared to handle anything. Their job is to help patients and families who encounter problems — big and small — when their regular oncology nurses are not available. They get questions from patients with all kinds of cancers and who are at all stages of treatment.
Their challenge is to do all of this without physically seeing the people they help.
“This is not standard bedside nursing,” Marrocco says. “You have to picture everything in your head. You have to ask a lot of questions. I have worked as a nurse in many areas, over many years. This helps me with evaluating the severity of calls that come through and the questions I ask the patients and their loved ones regardless of the problem in evaluating each situation.”
Even though they don’t often get to meet their patients, they still connect with them.
“I love that we form relationships with patients and talk to them through their whole treatment,” Patterson says. “Sometimes they’ll call in distress, and we talk them through those critical moments. It’s always challenging, and it’s nice to be there when they need us.”
In a typical week, the triage nurses will get 1,500 to 2,000 calls, but answering patient concerns is just one part of their job. They find times and space for urgent appointments and add-on clinics, helping patients avoid the Emergency Department when possible. They also review hundreds of faxes daily, many of which report important lab results. They also respond to MyChart messages, handle requests for prescription renewals and forward questions.
Patterson and Marrocco also monitor the critical values hotline, the phone that labs call to report urgent results that can have a life or death impact.
“We are not just an answering service,” Marrocco says. “We have access to records and charts and to the patients’ teams. We may not have as much information as their nurses, but we treat them like we’re their nurses.”
They do all of this between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., five days a week.
The triage nurses are not just important contacts for patients, they are also critical links for the care teams.
“Nursing is a stressful job, and time away from work to recharge is crucial to maintaining a good work-life balance. It is reassuring, when you are away from the office, knowing that Chris and Emily are the nurses looking out for your patients,” says Sean Goonan, RN, OCN, Assistant Nurse Manager. “They both possess vast amounts of knowledge across the continuum of cancer care, that we can be confident our patients are in very capable hands. They are an integral part of our clinic nursing team.”
The triage nurse team covers a different group of nurses each day, and they help the clinic teams so that they can focus on the patients they are physically with in the clinic. They also send out a daily schedule to staff with updates on coverage for all of the clinic teams and on-call providers, so that communication between teams can be clear and efficient.
“We are able to make the important decisions for patients and their safety when situations are critical and time sensitive,” Patterson says. “We are able to help patient care flow and prevent things from being missed or falling through the cracks when not all team members may be in-house each day.”
“The other staff look to them for support, and they trust them,” says Sara Luzunaris, B.S., R.N., Nurse Manager.
Despite the fast-paced, hectic nature of their jobs, Marrocco and Patterson enjoy what they do.
“We wear a lot of different hats, and we do a little of everything,” Marrocco says.
“It’s rewarding,” Patterson says. “I love it.”
Lydia Fernandez |