I could not live without…

A well-designed triage form

Anthony Blackman, optometrist at Leightons Opticians and director of training and development for Insight Optical Training, on how a simple triage form has empowered staff and increased efficiency

Ant Blackman

A good triage form is essential, for a number of reasons. I use a template that I designed and have since altered, based on feedback from colleagues. I gave it out free as a download when I presented at SightCare’s online conference, so I know of over 25 independent practices that have it already.

The feedback so far has been great. Practitioners have told me that the form is simple and quick to use, that the prompts included mean they don’t forget to ask obvious questions, and that their reception staff are now feeling more confident in handling queries from patients.

Upskilling reception staff

All calls to the practice go via the reception team, so when we are busy it is very useful for them to be able to gather the necessary information to start the triage process. Most of the questions have simple answers so that the optical assistant or receptionist can circle the answer. This speeds up the completion of the form and reduces ambiguity.

Using the form has definitely made them more confident in speaking to patients - they don’t go into panic mode. Now they go through a calm introduction and explain that they will ask a few questions. They don’t have to remember what to ask, as it is written down for them. Using the form makes speaking to patients much easier for them, and they feel more confident and competent. I have also run training sessions with them to ensure that this is the case.

Support staff may not be qualified to diagnose, but ours have been well trained in how to handle patients presenting with problems


The form was developed at the start of 2020, so out of coincidence it was ready in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been tweaked a little since then; it is a live document that can be amended based on feedback.

It made things much easier for everyone during the pandemic. It meant that most patients could be dealt with without the need for them to physically visit the practice. We continue to receive calls daily that require triaging, but having the reception team able to undertake the first part of the process has made things much easier. They can pass the details on to a professional colleague for the rest of the process.

Prioritising patients

The form has also been very helpful in cutting down chair time. We ask some patients to send a photo of their eye to confirm the signs and symptoms that they have reported. We might follow it up with a call or even email them some pdf leaflets, for example one on conjunctivitis or subconjunctival haemorrhage. The majority of patients have not needed to be seen urgently by the hospital, so it has saved their time too.

Having the right information at the beginning helps the clinician to manage the situation. All the major signs and symptoms are checked, so the process is consistent. What we don’t want is the clinician to have to call the patient to run through the questions again. The form helps us to avoid this.

Within the practice we have different titles, but we are all a team trying to deliver an excellent service to all of our patients. Support staff may not be qualified to diagnose, but ours have been well trained in how to handle patients presenting with problems. This way the patient can be dealt with efficiently and without delay. We never want to say, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t help you.’ The form means that patients feel like someone has listened and acknowledge their problem from the very beginning.

• As told to Lucy Miller