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Patient Triage Process - What Is It? A Patient Perspective 
Mental Health
8 Minutes
A doctor uses a mobile phone.
Meet Josh. 

Josh is happily married and his wife is expecting a baby in five months. He works a full time job and plays baseball on the weekend. Needless to say, Josh has a busy schedule. 

When Josh meets his college friends for dinner, they mention that he’s lost some weight, he isn’t looking like himself. One of his friends suggests that Josh should visit his GP and mention the weight loss.

A few days later, Josh follows up with his family doctor, he mentions the weight loss and other changes in his mood. His doctor does a physical exam and prescribes some tests  but Josh never follows up. The GP does their best to diagnose the condition, but since Josh does not follow up, and the GP does not have the right tools, Josh does not get referred to a specialist.

Nine months later, Josh is diagnosed with severe depression. Josh missed nine months of treatment that could have improved his condition before the birth of his first child. Josh has to spend the first two years of his daughter's life focusing on his mental health instead of her growth and development. 

Josh, like many others, miss their “Golden Time” to be diagnosed with a mental health condition. If the GP was equipped with tools to assess the situation more comprehensively, Josh could have received treatment when he needed it most.

Research shows that patient triage is essential to the outcomes of mental health conditions. Diagnosing someone is a key component to finding resources for treatment. When a patient notices any differences in their mood, body, or normal way of life, they should contact their GP and advocate for their health concerns.

Standard Patient Triage Process

Typically when a patient expresses feelings of anxiety or depression to their GP they do not have the tools to provide a clear assessment. This means a diagnosis could be missed and treatment could be delayed. The cost of undiagnosed depression is felt closest to those who need support. However, research has shown that depression costs the economic system US$200 billion a year, with a majority of these costs stemming from those with undiagnosed depression. In fact, data collected by Happify Health states that the annual direct healthcare costs for people who did not recognize their symptoms of depression are approximately $10,463 - this is 38% higher than those who receive treatment when they need it most.

Once a GP has fully understood the patient's concerns, patients are often referred to a questionnaire to assess the severity of their condition. For patients expressing concerns related to depression, the PHQ-9 questionnaire is used. For patients expressing concerns relating to anxiety, the GAD-7 questionnaire is used. Unfortunately, most people don’t like questionnaires and find it hard to self-identify with the statements they are being asked.

Research has shown that patients respond better to storytelling and answering open ended questions. Patients give more comprehensive information to their clinician when not selecting a score on a page, but instead expressing their feelings in written form. Open ended questions also allow patients to share trauma and personal experiences that might impact their treatment plan.

Once a patient shares this vital information with their clinician a treatment plan can be developed. Some patients require CBT sessions, pharmacological treatment, or a combination of both. Patients can also simultaneously use online CBT platforms to continue their treatment outside of appointments. When GP’s are equipped with the right tools to start with the right approach, they can diagnose mental health concerns in a timely manner.

The Importance of Patient Triage

Triage and diagnosis are key elements in every patient's journey to optimal health. Triage is essential to supporting the rest of the healthcare system as it is the first step to identifying each patient's needs. 

When healthcare providers have access to triage systems and tools, they can reach more patients and serve their needs in shorter periods of time. This is the best case scenario for all parties involved. Patients can feel heard, understood, and prioritized. Efficient triage processes ensure clinicians have a clear understanding of the patient's feelings and experiences so a treatment plan can be implemented to improve wellbeing.

OPTT

OPTT Triage allows patients to connect with clinicians electronically. The AI technology analyzes patients' written statements, assisting clinicians with effective triage, diagnosis and treatment.

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