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Does nonmedical hospital admission staff accurately triage emergency department patients?

Quitt, Jonasa; Ryser, Daniela; Dieterle, Thomasa; Lüscher, Ursa; Martina, Benedicta b; Tschudi, Peterb

European Journal of Emergency Medicine: August 2009 - Volume 16 - Issue 4 - p 172-176
doi: 10.1097/MEJ.0b013e32830c2193
Original Articles

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 (κ=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.

aInterdisciplinary Emergency Department, University Hospital Basel

bDepartment of Primary Care, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

Correspondence to Benedict Martina, MD, Professor of Medicine, Institute of Primary Care, University of Basel, Petersgraben 4, Basel CH-4031, Switzerland

Tel: +41 061 265 25 25; fax: +41 061 265 46 04;


Received 28 January 2008 Accepted 25 May 2008

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.