Washington DC

DC Nurse Triage Line Prevents Thousands of Unnecessary ER Trips, Fire Chief Says

About 17,000 calls have been diverted away from the emergency room in the four years since the program started

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Four years into a D.C. program in which nurses answer some 911 calls, officials say it's making a difference and saving thousands of people unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

News4 got an inside look at the Right Care, Right Now Nurse Triage Line, a phone line that connects some 911 callers with nurses to determine if they need to go to the hospital or a neighborhood clinic.

"Where is your pain located currently right now?" R.N. and Nurse Navigator Jenny Castro said to a patient who called 911 for an ambulance.

Castro was an emergency room nurse for nine years.

Nurses decide what level of care a caller needs after they answer their questions that can include "Are you able to walk?" and "Have you had any fever, chills, vomiting, chest pain or shortness of breath?".

"Let them understand that 'Yes, I know you don’t feel well. This is an emergency to you, but not a life-threatening situation that requires and ambulance to get you to the ER,'" Castro told News4.

Since D.C. Fire and EMS started the nurse triage program, paramedics receive less calls and there are fewer patients in emergency rooms, according to D.C. Fire and EMS Chief John Donnolly.

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"Since its inception, it's processed roughly 47,000 calls," Donnolly said. "Of that 47,000, about 17,000 have been diverted away from the emergency room."

Donnolly said it's not just about reducing the workload of first responders, it's what's best for the patients.

"We can make an appointment at a clinic for you and we can arrange an Uber to take you there and bring you home," Donnolly said.

Castro said she feels like she's helping patients better understand their own health and the health care system.

"After listening, and that’s an important part about triage nursing, is actually listening to patient not just what they're saying, but how they’re saying it," Castro said.

The nurse triage line is staffed 24 hours a day.

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