Introduction: Triage systems play a vital role in emergency department (ED) operations and can determine how well a given ED serves its local population. We sought to describe ED utilization patterns for different triage levels using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) database.
Methods: We conducted a multi-year secondary analysis of the NHAMCS database from 2009-2011. National visit estimates were made using standard methods in Analytics Software and Solutions (SAS, Cary, NC). We compared patients in the mid-urgency range in regard to ED lengths of stay, hospital admission rates, and numbers of tests and procedures in comparison to lower or higher acuity levels.
Results: We analyzed 100,962 emergency visits (representing 402,211,907 emergency visits nationwide). In 2011, patients classified as triage levels 1-3 had a higher number of diagnoses (5.5, 5.6 and 4.2, respectively) when compared to those classified as levels 4 and 5 (1.61 and 1.25). This group also underwent a higher number of procedures (1.0, 0.8 and 0.7, versus 0.4 and 0.4), had a higher ED length of stay (220, 280 and 237, vs. 157 and 135), and admission rates (32.2%, 32.3% and 15.5%, vs. 3.1% and 3.6%).
Conclusion: Patients classified as mid-level (3) triage urgency require more resources and have higher indicators of acuity as those in triage levels 4 and 5. These patients’ indicators are more similar to those classified as triage levels 1 and 2.