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Keywords:

  • competency;
  • evidence-based practice;
  • mental health triage;
  • psychiatric triage;
  • tele-health;
  • telephone triage

Aims and objectives.  The primary aim of this study was to identify the core competencies of mental health telephone triage, including key role tasks, skills, knowledge and responsibilities, in which clinicians are required to be competent to perform safe and effective triage.

Background.  Recent global trends indicate an increased reliance on telephone-based health services to facilitate access to health care across large populations. The trend towards telephone-based health services has also extended to mental health settings, evidenced by the growing number of mental health telephone triage services providing 24-hour access to specialist mental health assessment and treatment. Mental health telephone triage services are critical to the early identification of mental health problems and the provision of timely, appropriate interventions. In spite of the rapid growth in mental health telephone triage and the important role these services play in the assessment and management of mental illness and related risks, there has been very little research investigating this area of practice.

Design.  An observational design was employed to address the research aims.

Methods.  Structured observations (using dual wireless headphones) were undertaken on 197 occasions of mental health telephone triage over a three-month period from January to March 2011.

Results.  The research identified seven core areas of mental health telephone triage practice in which clinicians are required to be competent in to perform effective mental health telephone triage, including opening the call; performing mental status examination; risk assessment; planning and action; termination of call; referral and reporting; and documentation.

Conclusions.  The findings of this research contribute to the evidence base for mental health telephone triage by articulating the core competencies for practice.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The mental health telephone triage competencies identified in this research may be used to define an evidence-based framework for mental health telephone triage practice that aims to improve the quality, consistency and accuracy of telephone-based mental health triage assessment.