ACADEMIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE 2012; 19:106–109 © 2011 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine
Objectives: Patient acuity triage systems can play an important role in supporting patient safety and emergency department (ED) operations. In 2003, the boards of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) approved a joint statement calling for hospitals to adopt a reliable, valid, five-level triage scale such as the Emergency Severity Index (ESI). Still, there appears to be considerable variation in use of triage acuity systems in the United States, with many hospitals using three- and four-level systems that have not been validated. The purpose of this effort was to measure the use of various triage acuity systems in U.S. hospitals.
Methods: The authors conducted a cross-sectional analysis of secondary data. Data were obtained from the 2009 American Hospital Association (AHA) Annual Survey—an intensive questionnaire mailed to all U.S. general medical and surgical hospitals. In 2009, a question was added to the survey about hospitals’ use of triage systems in EDs. Descriptive statistics were used to explore various triage acuity systems used by different types of hospitals.
Results: Of the 4,897 hospitals surveyed, 82% responded, and 62% (3,024 hospitals) provided information on their ED triage system. The 2009 data revealed that the most commonly used triage system types were the five-level ESI (56.9% of responding hospitals) and three-level triage systems (25.2%). More than 70% of large hospitals and teaching hospitals use the ESI, and the unvalidated three-level systems were more common in small hospitals, public hospitals, nonteaching hospitals, and hospitals in the Midwest. The majority (72.1%) of all ED patient visits to hospitals in our sample were assessed using ESI; only 13.1% of visits were assessed using a three-level system.
Conclusions: Among our sample of more than 3,000 hospitals, the ESI was the most commonly used triage system, and more patients were triaged using the ESI than any other triage acuity system. Still, there is an opportunity to further promote the adoption of validated, reliable triage systems.