Can Team Triage Improve Patient Flow in the Emergency Department? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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This systematic review was performed as a feasibility study for revamping the triage service of an emergency department (ED) in a district hospital. In view of the overcrowding problem that plagues EDs worldwide, we reviewed evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to determine whether ED team triage improves patient flow in comparison with single-nurse triage. We measured improvement in patient flow in terms of the reduction in length of stay (LOS) or wait time (WT) for all ED patients. Adopting the Cochrane methodology, we searched and evaluated data sources for RCTs comparing patients assessed by an ED triage team, with patients receiving single-nurse triage at the same site. The data extracted were independently reviewed by 2 authors for inclusion and quality assessment. As for risk of bias across studies, there was an overall assessment of every outcome across the included studies according to the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) criteria for RCTs. In total, 2,164 studies were identified and 2,106 were excluded on the basis of title/abstract, leaving 58 articles for full assessment. Four trials (all cluster RCTs) involving 14,772 patients (165 clusters) met the inclusion criteria. On the basis of our analysis, there was no statistically significant or clinically relevant reduction of LOS and WT for all patients in these studies. One study reported death as an outcome: Relative risk was 0.34 (95% CI [0.01, 8.24]), which suggested that team triage might reduce mortality. Overall, although we have found no conclusive evidence from RCTs to support the use of team triage for improving patient flow in the ED, the results need not deter nursing managers intending to introduce team triage for improving the morale of the triage nurse. However, they may need to consider economic and organizational factors, such as resource reallocation and staff receptiveness, in implementing the new practice.

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