What Is Hospital Triage?

G. Wiesen

Hospital triage is a method by which incoming patients at a hospital or emergency room are evaluated to determine immediate need of medical attention and care. This is often done by a triage nurse or hospital worker trained to quickly and effectively analyze the needs of various patients. Such triage can be used to keep the emergency room staff and doctors from becoming overwhelmed by patients, and to ensure care is given to those who need it first. Hospital triage can also be used as a secondary form of triage after patients arrive from emergency situations in which initial triage analysis has been performed.

Patients wait in triage while a health professional determines the type of care they need.
Patients wait in triage while a health professional determines the type of care they need.

Triage in general, including hospital triage, refers to a practice by which those in need of medical assistance are evaluated to determine the immediacy of those medical needs. Individuals suffering illnesses or injuries that are immediately life-threatening, but which can be treated with medical care, are given top priority. Those who may only have minor injuries are then given lowest priority, though they may receive some quick, initial assistance such as the application of an analgesic. The use of hospital triage allows doctors and nurses to ensure immediate care is given to those with the greatest need.

Patients undergo triage upon arrival at an emergency room to determine the level of care they require.
Patients undergo triage upon arrival at an emergency room to determine the level of care they require.

Hospital triage begins as patients enter the waiting room of a hospital. A triage nurse or other properly trained hospital worker evaluates the medical needs of patients as they come into the waiting room, and assigns them a priority. While this may seem unfair to individuals given lower priority, especially those suffering from broken bones that are not compound fractures, this type of triage is essential for providing assistance to those who need it most. Hospital triage is a continual process, however, and if someone develops more severe medical needs, then he or she may be re-evaluated and assigned a new priority.

In situations in which patients are being brought to a hospital or emergency room from the scene of a major accident or disaster, then hospital triage can be used as a form of secondary triage. Patients arriving may have already been evaluated through one form of triage at the scene of the disaster, and have been sent for treatment accordingly. Once they reach the hospital, however, then re-evaluation may take place and patients are likely to be given priority based on the resources available at the hospital. When this type of hospital triage is used, the triage nurse often takes the initial triage analysis into consideration.

The triage system is used to determine which patients require immediate medical care, and which patients can wait.
The triage system is used to determine which patients require immediate medical care, and which patients can wait.

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