Course Design: How to Identify Triage Hot Words for Non-Clinical Agents


Over the past three years, I have been delivering training for a startup health care call center in Denver, CO. The call center services multiple primary care clinics around the Denver metro area assisting them with scheduling appointments, provider-to-provider referrals, and 24/7 phone access to nurse triage services. At the start of 2018, I decided to change my department’s focus and have a more active role evaluating call transfers between our non-clinical agents and clinical team.  head-scratching-3084884_640

One of the primary responsibilities of our clinical team is to triage patients over the phone which effectively reduce unnecessary medical costs for our patients. This service has been in place for about 30 years, however, three years ago they were integrated into the one-stop-shop virtual resource center idea which expanded our staff numbers when non-clinical positions were introduced. This new team would be responsible for inbound and outbound scheduling and referral management phone calls.

To continue reducing unnecessary costs for patients, our non-clinical team (aka Resource Specialists) were asked to use their active listening skills and capture any potential emergency or urgent symptoms a caller may share while trying to schedule an appointment or get information about their referrals. These “Hot Words” serve as trigger words which require the call is transferred to a nurse for triage.

Learning Need


Resource Specialists would now need to improve their active listening skill and basic medical knowledge to ensure patients requiring triage aren’t being missed. As member of the Training and Development team, I am responsible for delivering training and learning material to our non-clinical team so I have begun brainstorming a variety of ways to improve our team’s skills and knowledge to ensure all hot words are being captured. Prior to the start of my Instructional Design master’s degree, training was inadequate.

I have recently completed a Training Needs Analysis and discovered the team has been missing hot words primarily because they lack the necessary medical knowledge to think critically about potential outcomes when symptoms worsen. They may also benefit from realistic simulations to improve their empathy skill and raise motivation.

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize emergency and urgent “hot words” during inbound and outbound patient phone calls.
  2. Obtain and transfer necessary patient information over the phone to complete a warm transfer to the clinical team.
  3. Apply active listening techniques to build trust, show understanding, and acquire information.
  4. Formulate follow-up questions during phone calls when emergency and urgent “hot words” are identified.


The team is made up of about 30 adults between ages 25-70 and the majority have a general understanding of medical terminology. Fortunately, I have found enormous success using e-learning courses to deliver training because all our learners are comfortable using technology. Courses are typically very linear which are easier to follow and motivates learners by rewarding when questions are answered correctly and courses are completed.

Training Structure and Tools

blogging-3094201_640Learning will be structured primarily as an e-Learning course created using Adobe Captive and uploaded to TalentLMS. The course will include a variety of micro-learnings such as software simulations (how to videos), caller-agent scenarios, knowledge checks, and final assessment. In addition, I will create an infographic with an overview of the general nurse triage process as well as a handout with a list of common hot words. The infographic will be created in Adobe InDesign with many of its graphic elements created in Illustrator.

I am excited about this training and can’t wait to see the results!

What Motivates Adult Learners?

Adult Learning Principles, Training


What motivates different people, and how can we match up the appropriate motivators for folks at different stages?

I recently began asking myself the same question so I decided to test out a few things when delivering training to our call center staff. I work for a health care call center which if you’re familiar with health care, it’s always changing! However, most of the people that work for health care are very set in their ways. Let me explain…

I found, with many of the staff we hire at our call center, people tend to resist change when it comes to technology. My company recently (about two years now) made a system-wide update to their Electronic Health Record  system which forced all of its employees to learn something that affected their day-to-day tasks, e.g., scheduling patients, ordering labs and other tests, documenting in patient’s charts, collecting payments, running reports, etc… Now, health care is interesting because there’s a position for every type of person, young and old. What I find most interesting, however, is the reaction we get from people that have been with the company for 10+ years. They’ve seen it all. And it’s unfortunate that this demographic is always overlooked. Our older generation of employees tend to be late adopters* because they want to maintain their old skills.

Late adopters: referring to a person’s resistance to adopting a new idea or way of doing things, an innovation. (Surry Ely, 2007)

When attempting to motivate late adopters, it’s important to think of the following: 

  • Most of the time, late adopters are autonomous and self-directed;
  • they’re goal-oriented;
  • they want to know how new information relates to them;
  • they want to feel respected and heard (they have years of knowledge/experience);
  • they want to maintain old skills;
  • they need to earn your trust (especially if you’re younger than them and trying to teach them new things).

I would love to know what you think or what you would suggest I do so I can gain trust from adult learners. I will be 30 years old this year and most of the people I train are 10+ years ahead of me. I’m an easy-going person and get along with everyone, but I still feel resistance from our older learners.

What would you suggest I try to gain their trust and respect?