Using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) – a systematic 911 triage process – to identify a large subset of low-acuity patients for secondary nurse triage in the 911 center is a largely unstudied practice in North America. This study examines the ALPHA-level subset of low-acuity patients in the MPDS to determine the suitability of these patients for secondary triage by evaluating vital signs and necessity of lights-and-siren transport, as determined by attending Emergency Medical Services (EMS) ambulance crews.
The primary objective of this study was to determine the clinical status of MPDS ALPHA-level (low-acuity) patients, as determined by on-scene EMS crews’ patient care records, in two US agencies. A secondary objective was to determine which ALPHA-level codes are suitable candidates for secondary triage by a trained Emergency Communication Nurse (ECN).
In this retrospective study, one full year (2013) of both dispatch data and EMS patient records data, associated with all calls coded at the ALPHA-level (low-acuity) in the dispatch protocol, were collected. The primary outcome measure was the number and percentage of ALPHA-level codes categorized as low-acuity, moderate-acuity, high-acuity, and critical using four common vital signs to assign these categories: systolic blood pressure (SBP), pulse rate (PR), oxygen saturation (SpO2), and Glasgow Coma Score (GCS). Vital sign data were obtained from ambulance crew electronic patient care records (ePCRs). The secondary endpoint was the number and percentage of ALPHA-level codes that received a “hot” (lights-and-siren) transport.
Out of 19,300 cases, 16,763 (86.9%) were included in the final analysis, after excluding cases from health care providers and those with missing data. Of those, 89% of all cases did not have even one vital sign indicator of unstable patient status (high or critical vital sign). Of all cases, only 1.1% were transported lights-and-siren.
With the exception of the low-acuity, ALPHA-level seizure cases, the ALPHA-level patients are suitable to transfer for secondary triage in a best-practices, accredited, emergency medical dispatch center that utilizes the MPDS at very high compliance rates. The secondary nurse triage process should identify the few at-risk patients that exist in the low-acuity calls.
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