What does triage mean?

Posted on 1 June 2018

‘Triage is a clinically proven method of categorising medical cases by how serious they are,’ says Dr Irma Aggenbach, Emergency Centre Manager at Mediclinic Panorama.

‘Triage must happen before we conduct any tests or administer any type of treatment. One nurse – usually a very experienced one – will be assigned to this very important role at the beginning of a shift, and he or she will determine the severity of your condition. You will be asked a few questions and the nurse will take a few observations. You will then be handed over to the registered nurse who is best equipped to deal with your specific case.’

When you arrive

Nurses will conduct tests to gauge your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and body temperature. They will also take note of how you arrived – walking, or on a stretcher – and look for symptoms of physical trauma. Finally, they will take into account your general wakefulness and how you respond to stimuli.

‘Nurses will then assign points for each of these, and categorise the severity of your case by your score,’ says Dr Aggenbach. ‘One or two points will most likely be triaged as a green patient – someone who is walking and talking, but maybe has a fever – whereas someone on a stretcher, unable to speak, bleeding or with a high temperature, is an urgent case.’

‘We rely on our EC patients to give us a certain amount of information,’ says Dr Aggenbach. ‘So we will ask a number of questions to determine how badly you feel and gain a short history of your circumstances. You may have chest pain, or felt weakness on one side of your body, or taken a fall – these are all factors we will take into consideration as we process you in the triage system.’

‘We also highlight the value of discretion. We have colour codes to categorise our patients, but we can’t afford to stick to them religiously. We may have a green patient who is old and frail, and she will need to take preference over an orange patient who is young and fit. These are the kind of questions we need our nurses and doctors to ask themselves.’

Discretionary patients usually fall into one of four vulnerable populations: small children, old people, pregnant women and psychiatric patients. ‘We don’t leave these patients in the waiting rooms for long, no matter what their colour code or points score.’

Published in Emergency

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