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Senior doctor triage (SDT), a qualitative study of clinicians’ views on senior doctors’ involvement in triage and early assessment of emergency patients

Abstract

Introduction Despite the focus during the last decade on introducing interventions such as senior doctor initial assessment or senior doctor triage (SDT) to reduce emergency department (ED) crowding, there has been little attempt to identify the views of emergency healthcare professionals on such interventions. The aim of this study was to gain an understanding of SDT from the perspective of emergency hospital staff. A secondary aim of this study was to develop a definition of SDT based on the interview findings and the available literature on this process.

Methods Qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with participants of different backgrounds including senior doctors, nurses, paramedics and ED managers. Textual data were analysed using a template analysis approach.

Results 27 participants from 13 EDs across England were interviewed. SDT was viewed as a safety mechanism and a measure to control patient flow. The most prominent positive aspect was the ability to initiate early investigations and treatment. Various shortcomings of SDT were described such as the lack of standardisation of the process and its cost implications. Participants identified a number of barriers to this process including insufficient resources and exit block, and called for solutions focused on these issues. A proposed definition of an ‘ideal’ SDT was developed where it is described as a systematic brief assessment of patients arriving at the ED by a senior doctor-led team, which takes place in a dedicated unit. The aim of this assessment is to facilitate early investigation and management of patients, early patient disposition and guide junior staff to deliver safe and high-quality clinical care.

Conclusion This is the first national study to explore the opinions of various emergency and managerial staff on the SDT model. It revealed variable interpretations of this model and what it can and cannot offer. This has led to a standard definition of the SDT process, which can be useful for clinicians and researchers in emergency care.

  • emergency care systems
  • emergency department
  • first responders
  • clinical assessment
  • qualitative research

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