Introduction Triage systems are scales developed to rate the degree of urgency among patients who arrive at EDs. A number of different scales are in use; however, the way in which they have been validated is inconsistent. Also, it is difficult to define a surrogate that accurately predicts urgency. This systematic review described reference standards and measures used in previous validation studies of five-level triage systems.
Methods We searched PubMed, EMBASE and CINAHL to identify studies that had assessed the validity of five-level triage systems and described the reference standards and measures applied in these studies. Studies were divided into those using criterion validity (reference standards developed by expert panels or triage systems already in use) and those using construct validity (prognosis, costs and resource use).
Results A total of 57 studies examined criterion and construct validity of 14 five-level triage systems. Criterion validity was examined by evaluating (1) agreement between the assigned degree of urgency with objective standard criteria (12 studies), (2) overtriage and undertriage (9 studies) and (3) sensitivity and specificity of triage systems (7 studies). Construct validity was examined by looking at (4) the associations between the assigned degree of urgency and measures gauged in EDs (48 studies) and (5) the associations between the assigned degree of urgency and measures gauged after hospitalisation (13 studies). Particularly, among 46 validation studies of the most commonly used triages (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale, Emergency Severity Index and Manchester Triage System), 13 and 39 studies examined criterion and construct validity, respectively.
Conclusion Previous studies applied various reference standards and measures to validate five-level triage systems. They either created their own reference standard or used a combination of severity/resource measures.
- triage systems
- emergency departments
- reference standards
- criterion validity
- construct validity
- systematic review.
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