When a medical emergency happens, not everyone calls 911. In a surprising study of caller surveys and disposition outcomes from phone calls to our triage nurses, as many as one-third of adult callers underestimated the seriousness of their symptoms. Even when adults have a sense that their symptoms may be severe, there is a stigma of calling for an ambulance. Ironically, this is the case of workers who are highly functioning and productive in companies because they do not want to take time off for themselves unnecessarily.
The biggest challenge is often getting the caller to make the first call because it depends on their understanding and sense of their symptoms and their overall level of motivation to seek help. People often underestimate their symptoms. Employees also worry about their privacy and having an independent and trusted nurse increases their likelihood of calling.
Fortunately, having a triage nurse available increases the chances that an employee will seek help from a professional. People often will call a nurse when they are not sure about their symptoms because nurses provide an empathetic ear and support even if it is just a health question or a non-serious issue. As a result, this allows the nurse to triage the caller and catch serious symptoms that require immediate attention.
We recently interviewed our nurses at TriageLogic to get their insight. Here is what we discovered.
Top 10 Reasons Callers Delay Seeking Treatment and the Role of Health Ambassadors when there is a Real Medical Emergency
1. Don’t know what to do
Knowing about different medical symptoms plays a significant role in the process of seeking care. Callers attempt to match their symptoms to what they think they know about a given problem. This often leads to misinterpreted symptoms and underestimation of seriousness. See for example, Anna’s case study.
2. Symptoms seem to be too mild to call 911
For example, a caller may feel “not quite right” or “fuzzy.” They did not think to call emergency services because they did not believe their symptoms were severe enough to call.
3. Fear of what the doctors will find
A lot of times individuals suspect something is wrong but decide to wait to see if the symptoms will resolve spontaneously. They ignore seeking medical attention, even when they know they have a life-threatening emergency.
4. Don’t want to inconvenience others
Adults are often afraid of being dependent on others in the future and don’t want to disrupt those around them. There is concern about taking up the time and resources of emergency services for symptoms that did not appear to be urgent and better used for other ‘more deserving’ cases. This again stems from a belief that their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant an emergency room trip.
5. Fear of hospitals
If a caller has had a previous negative experience calling 911 or in the hospital, they may be afraid of hospitals and not wanting to ‘bother’ medical services. A new study released at the 2019 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference sheds light on the reasons why callers needing medical attention delay in calling for help. The most common cause by nearly one-third of the participants in the study chose not to seek help because they didn’t know where an ambulance would take them.
6. Fear of doctors and medical professionals
Latrophobia, or fear of doctors, is common. Most of us do not particularly enjoy going to the doctor and visits can cause anxiety. As a result, callers often ignore their symptoms hoping that it will go away and not require a medical visit.
7. Fear of being embarrassed
Surprisingly, our nurses have had several cases of callers not wanting to call an ambulance because they felt like they were causing a scene with EMT services arriving on their behalf. Some callers worry about the perception of others in these circumstances and fear being a nuisance and denied services if they call too often.
8. Don’t want to ride in an ambulance
A large number of individuals prefer to have a family member drive them. In fact, more than one in three people who have a stroke don’t call 911 and instead rely on self-transport to get to the hospital, creating an obvious potential danger to both the caller and others on the road with them. Having a health ambassador educate about the seriousness of the symptom and the importance of getting an ambulance often leads a caller to comply and call an ambulance.
9. Too expensive
Older callers are often reluctant to call an ambulance or 911 because of the expense. Some individuals fail to call because they do not have insurance coverage or their deductibles are too high. Having a health ambassador to call first allows them to ensure that they genuinely need emergent care before calling for help.
10. Don’t want to make the decision themselves
Callers often rely on a friend or relative not only to provide comfort and reassurance but also to take responsibility for engaging with emergency medical services. It is critical for them to seek affirmation from others and a health ambassador line is a credible and viable alternative for help rather than other, less reliable sources.
The more informed the caller is about the benefits provided by triage nurses and telephone nurse triage, the less the likely the caller will end up in the emergency room. There are many times when the health ambassador can redirect the caller to a less expensive treatment option that allows them to stay home and treat their symptoms.
In sum, triage nurses have the potential to create significant value for companies and their staff. Triage nurses help both types of callers: the ones who overestimate the seriousness of their symptoms and don’t need to go to the ER as well as those who think their symptoms are not serious, but still need an ER visit.
Continuwell provides free, confidential, and easy access to Triage Nurses. No symptom is too big or small for our Health Ambassadors.