Ask A Magnet Nurse

How Emergency Departments Ensure Patients Receive Treatment Quickly And Fairly

Matt Nelson BSN, RN, CEN 
Clinical Nurse Manager
Emergency Department, St. Joseph’s Hospital

 Smart Living: Patients who come to the emergency department, or ED, are quite sick or in distress. But they may also be confused or frustrated when they see a person who came into the ED after them being brought back to a room before they are. Why might that happen?

Matt Nelson: It is always our top priority to provide our patients with prompt, quality, and compassionate care. It is also our responsibility to effectively triage patients to determine the sickest of the sick so we can appropriately allocate our resources.  This all takes place during the initial triage assessment and is why we have such experienced staff members completing each patient’s triage.  For example, if you have a laceration to your hand—it may bleed profusely, hurt terribly, and be very upsetting.  Seeing someone, who outwardly looks healthy, check in after you and be pulled back to a room before you might be frustrating.  But it is possible our triage staff has learned he is experiencing severe chest pain.  We must get him back for an EKG within a certain time frame to catch a potential heart attack. 

I use examples like these to help patients understand this triaging process.  It is how we assess the urgency of your condition and determine the likelihood it could cause severe morbidity or even mortality.  It enables staff to identify resources and specialties needed to provide you with the best care. We understand the frustration of waiting when you’re injured or ill, but if a person has gone ahead of you, it is likely based on our clinical assessment of the patient’s condition.

 SL: How is the severity of a patient’s condition determined?

MN: When determining the severity of a patient’s condition, we deploy a triage algorithm that utilizes a numerical scoring system as a tool to aid in your assessment. Each number assigned to a patient is done so by an experienced triage nurse.  They factor in clinical findings, acuity, and resources necessary.  Once assigned, our clinical team uses this numerical score to prioritize patient care.  Our triage nurses stress the importance of notifying one of our staff members if a patient’s symptoms change or their condition worsens after their initial triage assessment. 

Please know that even if you have been waiting a while, we have not forgotten about you. We are committed to taking the best care of you and will get you seen as soon as possible. 

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