A study of triage of paediatric patients in Australia

Linda Durojaiye, Matthew O'Meara
Emergency Medicine 2002, 14 (1): 67-76

OBJECTIVES: To describe the triage of children in a sample of mixed and paediatric emergency departments in Australia in 1999 and to measure the inter-rater reliability of the National Triage Scale when used by triage nurses for the triage of paediatric patients.

METHODS: A questionnaire was sent to 11 hospitals, including one paediatric and one mixed emergency department, in each state studied. Triage nurses were asked to assess 25 paediatric patient profiles and to assign appropriate triage categories to each profile. The number of responses within the modal triage category (concurrence), the percentage of responses with a concurrence of at least 50% and the number of responses within one triage category of the modal response (spread) of responses were measured. Triage data for 1999 from the same emergency departments were collected and numbers of children seen and admitted in each triage category were described. The patterns of distribution of triage categories for specific paediatric diagnoses (triage 'footprints') were also described. Data from mixed emergency departments were grouped and compared with data from paediatric emergency departments and any differences were described.

RESULTS: Seventy-eight nurses in 10 hospitals responded to the questionnaire. Sixty-three per cent of all responses had a concurrence of greater than 50%. Ninety-four per cent of patient profiles were triaged to within one triage category of their modal response. Nurses in paediatric emergency departments (concurrence greater than 50% for 79% of responses) were significantly more consistent in their use of the National Triage Scale compared with nurses in mixed emergency departments (concurrence greater than 50% for 50% of responses). Paediatric emergency department triage nurses were more likely to use the full range of the National Triage Scale and were fourfold as likely to allocate triage categories 4 and 5 to patient profiles. Paediatric hospitals allocated patients to triage categories 4 and 5 for an average of 710 of presentations compared with 47% for mixed emergency departments. Specific diagnoses had characteristic distributions of triage categories, with similar differences seen when comparisons were made between mixed and paediatric emergency departments.

CONCLUSION: Use of the National Triage Scale for the triage of paediatric patients by triage staff is not consistent and there are significant differences between the triage practices of paediatric and mixed emergency departments.

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