The term triage was originally developed during war, in which there were too many patients for the doctors and nurses to treat during a reasonable amount of time. Consequently, the doctors started to tell the nures to pick out the most injured patients and let him see those patients first.
The word triage, litterally means in French “To sieve” and refers to a sieving process or filtering process that removes the most sick or injured patients to be seen first.
This process has now carried over to general hospital triaging and it is still the responsibility of the nurses (generally, one, very well trained senior nurse called the triage nurse) to sieve out the sickest patients in the waiting room to be seen by the Doctor or Nurses first.
It is because of this triage system that sometimes you may attend a hospital emergency waiting room and be told that you have about a half an hour wait only to find out that in half an hour you now have an hour wait – be happy about this, this means that there are some much “sicker” patients than you, who are ahead of you in the line. It also means that, if you or a family member/loved one does get seriously injured (such as in a car accident) you will be able to be seen as early as possible by the doctors or nurses.
How does it work?
Most countries have their own triage systems, but in Australia, we hae a five category triage system.
The Five Triage Categories
Triage category Description
1 People who need to have treatment immediately or within two minutes are categorised as having an immediately life-threatening condition. People in this group are critically ill and require immediate attention. Most would have arrived in Emergency Department by Ambulance. They would probably be suffering from a critical injury or cardiac arrest.
2 People who need to have treatment within 10 minutes are categorised as having an imminently life-threatening condition. People in this group suffer from a critical illness or are in very severe pain. People with serious chest pains, difficulty in breathing and severe fractures are included in this group.
3 People who need to have treatment within 30 minutes are categorised as having a potentially life-threatening condition. People in this group suffer from severe illness, bleed heavily from cuts, have major fractures, or be dehydrated.
4 People who need to have treatment within one hour are categorised as having a potentially serious condition. People in this group have less severe symptoms or injuries, such as a foreign body in the eye, sprained ankle, migraine or earache.
5 People who need to have treatment within two hours are categorised as having a less urgent condition. People in this group have minor illnesses or symptoms that may have been present for more than a week, such as rashes or minor aches and pains.
(Per NSW Health Website)
What should I Ask and what should I Tell The Triage Nurse?
You shouldn’t have to think about what to ask or tell the triage nurse except why you have come to an emergency department today. The triage nurse will be a very senior, competent and well trained nurse, who will have experience taking a history from a patient to determine how sick/injured they are. If a triage nurse gives you a low triage score and asks you to wait in the waiting room, this does not mean that he or she is doing it to punish you, simply that there are currently too many patients to be seen immediately in the waiting room. They will eventually get around to you.