The influence of triage systems and triage scores on timeliness of ED analgesic administration

James Ducharme, Paula Tanabe, Peter Homel, James R Miner, Andrew K Chang, Jacques Lee, Knox H Todd
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2008, 26 (8): 867-73

OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to examine the association between triage scoring systems and triage priority scores on time to initial emergency department (ED) analgesic administration.

METHODS: An observational, multicenter, prospective, cohort study was conducted at 20 US and Canadian EDs. Centers from the United States used the Emergency Severity Index triage system or 1 of 3 unvalidated triage systems. Canadian centers used the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale. Patients aged 8 years or older who presented to the ED with a chief complaint of moderate to severe pain (>3 on a 10-point numerical rating scale) and who were ultimately discharged home were eligible for study enrollment. Triage score, triage system, pain rating on arrival, and time of initial analgesic administration were recorded.

RESULTS: Among 842 enrolled subjects, 506 (60%) received an analgesic while in the ED. Lower-acuity patients consistently waited longer for analgesics. On multivariate modeling, presenting pain intensity, total time spent in the ED, white ethnicity, and triage system were associated with time to initial analgesic administration. Emergency departments using the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale triage system exhibited the lowest rates of analgesic use and displayed longer median times to initial analgesic administration.

CONCLUSIONS: Although there were some differences between triage systems, all sites and systems demonstrated unacceptably long times to analgesic provision. Many patients with moderate to severe pain received no analgesic during their ED stay. Future studies should examine whether ED overcrowding impacts timeliness of analgesic administration and identify specific strategies to improve pain management practices in this challenging environment.


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