Phone Triage Success Is Built With Patience

Tony Hagen and Emily Brill
Published: Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017
Paul Sieber, MD

John Sprandio, MD

John Sprandio, MD, said he's noticed a funny thing about doctors. In many physicians, medical school nurtures an independent streak that resists standardization. When Sprandio works with community practices to help launch phone triage programs, he often finds that a single medical problem is handled many different ways.

Sprandio said he has learned many lessons over the years. He chooses a quote from his friend Brent James, a healthcare executive in Utah and Idaho, to express what he considers one of the most important rules: "Don't let the great get in the way of the good." It’s not possible to have a perfect phone triage program right away; what's important is establishing one and doing the work to make it function, he said. Improvements will come.

Standardization Works Best

To heed that lesson, the architects of a phone triage program have to trade individualism and perfectionism for consistency, he said. "You don't all have to debate what thing is best before you start measuring. Just agree to do the same thing, do it systematically, measure your results, and make continuous improvements based on data," Sprandio said. "That’s what we did with our algorithm, and we’re consistently improving it."
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