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Implementation of an emergency department triage procedure for the detection and isolation of patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis.

STUDY OBJECTIVES: To investigate the ability of an emergency department screening protocol to initiate respiratory isolation of patients with pulmonary tuberculosis at ED triage before chest radiography.

METHODS: We conducted a prospective cohort study with retrospective medical record review of adult patients who presented for care to an urban, university-affiliated hospital in Los Angeles County over a 4-month period. Ambulatory patients were administered a triage screening protocol that used patient-reported tuberculosis risk factors and symptoms in combination with selective chest radiography to screen patients at ED triage for active pulmonary tuberculosis.

RESULTS: A total of 10,674 patients were screened; 2, 218 were isolated at triage and underwent chest radiography, and 378 were kept in isolation in the ED. The respiratory isolation of pulmonary tuberculosis (RIPT) protocol detected 17 of 27 visits made by patients with unsuspected pulmonary tuberculosis, yielding a sensitivity of 63% (95% confidence interval [CI] 42% to 81%). The estimated specificity was 78%. For each patient with tuberculosis who was detected by the RIPT protocol, 624 patients were screened at triage, 130 chest radiographs were taken, and 22 patients were placed in respiratory isolation in the ED. Patients with undetected pulmonary tuberculosis more commonly had nonpulmonary chief complaints (76% versus 20%; odds ratio [OR] 13, 95% CI 2.1 to 78.3), and only 60% (95% CI 26% to 88%) were ultimately isolated in the hospital. Among RIPT screen-positive patients, radiographic findings predictive of pulmonary tuberculosis were cavitary lesions (OR 84.3, 95% CI 22.6 to 315), upper lobe infiltrates (OR 24.2, 95% CI 9.1 to 64.4), pleural effusions (OR 8.9, 95% CI 2.5 to 31.8), diffuse/interstitial infiltrates (OR 5.7, 95% CI 1.8 to 17.9), and non-upper lobe infiltrates (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.0 to 9.5).

CONCLUSION: The RIPT screening protocol was only moderately sensitive for isolating patients with pulmonary tuberculosis at ED triage. Future studies should evaluate modified and abridged screening protocols, as well as the cost-effectiveness of triage screening.

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