Does nonmedical hospital admission staff accurately triage emergency department patients?

Jonas Quitt, Daniel Ryser, Thomas Dieterle, Urs Lüscher, Benedict Martina, Peter Tschudi
European Journal of Emergency Medicine: Official Journal of the European Society for Emergency Medicine 2009, 16 (4): 172-6

OBJECTIVES: Utilization of hospital emergency departments (EDs) is continuously increasing. Though nurses and physicians are ultimately responsible for the definite triage decisions, initial ED patient triage is frequently performed by hospital admission staff. This study analyzes the quality of assessment of the severity of emergencies and the choice of treatment unit made by hospital admission staff.

METHODS: One thousand fifty-nine consecutive surgical and medical patients entering the ED of the University Hospital Basel during an 11-day period were independently assessed by hospital admission staff without formal medical training, ED nursing staff, and ED physicians. Emergencies were classified by severity (intervention within minutes/hours/days) or by severity and resource utilization (immediate intervention with/without life-threatening condition, delayed intervention with high/low/no demand of resources). Emergency assessment and triage decision (surgical/medical, outpatient/inpatient treatment) were documented independently by all three ED staff groups.

RESULTS: In 64% of the cases, initial assessment by admission staff corresponded with the final assessment by the ED physician. Concordance was, however, poor (kappa=0.23). Underestimation of the severity occurred in 7.5% of cases without severe or lethal consequences. Ninety-four percent of patients were treated in the unit to which they were originally triaged by the admission staff.

CONCLUSION: Triage quality regarding the choice of treatment unit was found to be excellent, whereas the quality of the assessment of the severity of the emergency by nonmedical ED admission staff was acceptable. ED patients have to be assessed by medical staff early after admission to ensure adequate and timely interventions.

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