by Cara O’Brien, Staff Writer
In the nine months since its launch, the Craig Hospital Spinal Cord Injury Nursing Advice Line has seen its call volume more than double.
The service fields calls from former patients, current patients, doctors from all over the country and other people affected by spinal cord injuries. The woman behind the Nursing Advice Line, Diedre Bricker, said Craig Hospital has always received a lot of calls from people seeking spinal cord injury advice.
In part this is due to Craig’s national reputation, which draws patients from all over the country who need advice once again after leaving Craig.
“We needed to come up with a system to handle those phone calls,” Bricker said. “The call volume became so much, and the nurses became so busy … that people were waiting several hours, sometimes days, to get a phone call back.”
Under the old system, people calling Craig seeking nurses’ advice would leave a message on a central voicemail. They would then hear back from whichever nurse became available. Bricker said that, as a result, people calling with the same issues didn’t always get uniform answers.
So Bricker was hired in January 2008 to develop a better system and to pull together standardized information and resources to offer callers to Craig’s Nursing Advice Line.
Since she re-launched the advice line in October, 2008, she is able to, if not answer people’s calls directly – though she generally does - get back to them within a couple of hours of their call. And she has up-to-date resources and information at her fingertips to offer the callers.
“That frees up the nurses that are actually seeing patients here in the hospital and also gives people timely care and advice as they need it,” Bricker said.
When she launched the line, it received about 75 calls a month. It now receives more than 200. The most common issues callers utilize the line for are skin, bladder and bowel and pain issues.
Bricker said in these areas, spinal cord injury patients have unique concerns and issues once they leave the hospital and re-enter their communities. And she said not all medical professionals have experience with these issues.
“It’s just one of those things that … (as a spinal cord nurse) I deal with on a daily basis,” Bricker said. “But once they leave here, they don’t have that kind of knowledge at their fingertips.”
Bricker said she is able to offer general advice about pain management, skin care and bladder and bowel use techniques that have worked for patients in the past. She is also able to direct callers to other resources and information.
“I can help them sort of maneuver through the health care system and give them the information that they need so they can take it to their doctors and nurse practitioners,” she said.
She is not able to offer prescriptions or other specific medication advice, nor is she able to help people in emergency situations. She said the first thing she does with any call is assess the situation to be sure it’s not an emergency.
If it is, she directs the person to call 9-1-1 or go to a local emergency room. Generally speaking, Bricker said the calls last at least a half hour and run up to a couple of hours.
“People will be injured and because it’s such a unique injury and because the complications are so global, people leave and they go back to their primary care physician” who maybe don’t have a background in spinal cord injury, Bricker said.
“I get them the information that they need, so they can be a better advocate for themselves.”
In the future, Bricker would like to expand the service to include more hours and more resources. She would also like to develop a curriculum for health care providers without a background in spinal cord injury so they can better assist those patients.
The Nursing Advice Line can be reached at 1-800-247-0257. Bricker operates the line Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If she cannot answer the phone, she will return the call within a few hours.