by Joelle Moran
Being diagnosed with a disease can be overwhelming for a patient.
After leaving the physician’s office, their mind is flooded with questions of what it all means and what to do next.
For more than 25 years, National Jewish Health’s Lung Line nurses have been answering many of these worrisome questions, putting patients’ minds at ease.
Since starting in 1983 with one nurse, the toll-free Lung Line (800-222-LUNG) has answered more than 1 million calls. Today, the informational health line is staffed by eight highly trained nurses with years of clinical experience who answer more than 7,000 calls a month.
While the majority of the calls are for the respiratory, allergic and immunological diseases the hospital is internationally known for treating, the nurses at Lung Line also field questions about other diseases the hospital treats such as cardiology, gastroenterology and rheumatology.
“Sometimes people feel like they have a silly question, and they go home from their physician and have more questions,” said Melinda Masterson, nurse manager of Lung Line. “Our nurses can explain things to them. It’s a safe way to get their questions answered.”
Masterson has worked at National Jewish for 30 years and has watched Lung Line evolve. She started at the Denver hospital in pediatrics, where she worked for nine years, and then started at Lung Line as a nurse, eventually moving up to supervisor and manager. Since January she has been manager of a new department called Clinical Telephonic Nursing, which includes Lung Line, Physician Line and phone triage nurses.
When people call Lung Line, they talk to a specialized registered nurse. Masterson said her staff has more than 100 years of combined experience and knowledge from working in clinical care.
“They do not diagnose or treat over the phone, but they provide information and guidance,” she said.
Callers may ask questions about a disease they have, they may be calling about a disease one of their loved ones was recently diagnosed with, or they may be an existing patient who simply needs to know how to use their inhaler. Lung Line nurses give callers information about the disease and treatments available, empowering them with knowledge for their next physician’s visit. Lung Line also provides free educational materials about different disease to consumers and physicians offices.
“It’s a tremendous service for the consumer because it is a free service to be able to talk to an RN who specializes in the diseases we treat at National Jewish,” Masterson said. “It’s also a huge benefit to National Jewish because many of these are our patients calling, needing some support and guidance.”
Allowing National Jewish patients to talk to a nurse over the phone, rather than physicians and nurses in clinical areas, helps the clinical staff focus on the patients they are caring for that day.
“We are able to support their patients,” Masterson said.
Of course another benefit from Lung Line is that the hospital gains new patients who are interested in what National Jewish has to offer. In these cases, nurses facilitate admissions, by taking a brief medical history as well as insurance information and scheduling appointments.
To build on Lung Line’s success, in 1993, National Jewish launched Physician Line (800-652-9555), which allows outside physicians and other health care professionals to refer patients and consult with the hospital’s specialists.
“We like to feel that as experts in the field, that we can be a resource for outside physicians,” Masterson said.
In addition to the toll-free phone line, Lung Line and Physician Line also have online components. Consumers with questions can also e-mail Lung Line at email@example.com, and physicians can fill out an online consultation form at the hospital’s web site. Since January 2008, nurses have answered 6,000 Lung Line e-mails and responded to more than 1,000 Physician Line e-mails. The nurses also go off-line and respond to online patient registrations and teach patient education classes, Masterson said.
Masterson said the two informational lines have been such a success due to the dedicated staff of nurses that truly enjoy the work. Most of the Lung Line nurses have been fielding calls for 15 or 20 years, Masterson said.
“It’s a great field for nursing in that we still connect with people over the phone,” she said. “We have to use our assessment and triaging skills to be able to determine what their questions are and to give them advice.
“It’s really a connection with patients and physicians.” Lung Line nurses not only have exceptional knowledge and experience with diseases, but they also have excellent listening skills, Masterson said.
“Many people that call are scared or confused,” she said. “Sometimes they’re not sure what they need and are looking for help. Our nurses are really able to assess the caller’s situation and extract information to guide them, and support them and direct them.”
Lung Line and Physician Line are staffed from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. National Jewish also has a Case Manager Line (800-573-5864).