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Comparing resource use between paediatric emergency department visits by triage level


Objective The majority of paediatric ED visits result in discharge but little is known about what ED resources are deployed for these visits. The goal of this study was to understand the utilisation of diagnostic testing, procedures and hospital admission for paediatric ED visits triaged as ‘non-urgent’.

Study design We examined US ED visits for children aged 0–17 years from 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2011 in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Visits triaged on arrival as ‘non-urgent’ (level 5) were compared with urgent visits (triage levels 1–4) for resource use and disposition. Sensitivity and specificity of triage for predicting resource use and disposition were assessed.

Results Among 21 052 observations, representing 86 620 988 visits, 11.1% were triaged as ‘non-urgent’. Diagnostic services were provided during 37.6% (95% CI 33.9% to 41.4%) of non-urgent and 55.2% (95% CI 53.3% to 57.2%) of urgent visits. Procedures were performed in 23.9% (95% CI 20.4% to 27.3%) of non-urgent and 33.9% (95% CI 31.2% to 35.9%) of urgent visits. 1.7% (95% CI 0.09% to 2.6%) of the non-urgent visits resulted in admission, with 0.08% (95% CI 0% to 0.2%) to critical care units, compared with 4.4% (95% CI 3.6% to 5.2%) of the urgent visits, with 0.3% (95% CI 0.2% to 0.4%) to critical care. Despite some substantial differences in the rates of resource use, triage score had poor sensitivity for identifying patients who did not receive ED tests, procedures or admission.

Conclusion A significant percentage of ED patients with non-urgent ED triage scores received ED testing and procedures. More work is needed to improve methods of prospectively identifying patients with low acuity complaints who do not need significant ED resources.

  • paediatric emergency med
  • emergency department utilisation

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