An Electronic Emergency Triage System to Improve Patient Distribution by Critical Outcomes

Andrea Freyer Dugas, Thomas Kirsch, Matthew Toerper, Frederick Korley, Gayane Yenokyan, Daniel France, David Hager, Scott Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Patient triage is necessary to manage excessive patient volumes and identify those with critical conditions. The most common triage system used today, Emergency Severity Index (ESI), focuses on resources utilized and critical outcomes. Objective This study derives and validates a computer-based electronic triage system (ETS) to improve patient acuity distribution based on serious patient outcomes. Methods This cross-sectional study of 25,198 (97 million weighted) adult emergency department visits from the 2009 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. The ETS distributes patients by using a composite outcome based on the estimated probability of mortality, intensive care unit admission, or transfer to operating room or catheterization suite. We compared the ETS with the ESI based on the differentiation of patients, outcomes, inpatient hospitalization, and resource utilization. Results Of the patients included, 3.3% had the composite outcome and 14% were admitted, and 2.52 resources/patient were used. Of the 90% triaged to low-acuity levels, ETS distributed patients evenly (Level 3: 30%; Level 4: 30%, and Level 5: 29%) compared to ESI (46%, 34%, and 7%, respectively). The ETS better-identified patients with the composite outcome present in 40% of ETS Level 1 vs. 17% for ESI and the ETS area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) was 0.83 vs. ESI 0.73. Similar results were found for hospital admission (ETS AUC = 0.83 vs. ESI AUC = 0.72). The ETS demonstrated slight improvements in discriminating patient resource utilization. Conclusions The ETS is a triage system based on the frequency of critical outcomes that demonstrate improved differentiation of patients compared to the current standard ESI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)910-918
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • emergency medicine
  • patient acuity
  • resource allocation
  • triage
  • utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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