While the art and science of disaster triage continue to evolve, the education of the US health care student in matters pertaining to disaster preparedness and response remains stifled. Unfortunately, these students will be assuming major decision-making responsibilities regarding catastrophes that will be complicated by climate change, nuclear threats, global terrorism, and pandemics. Meanwhile, Sort, Assess, Life-Saving Interventions, Treatment, and/or Transport (SALT) triage is being advocated over the globally popular Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment (START) algorithm for multiple reasons: (1) it’s an all-hazard approach; (2) it has four medical interventions; and (3) it has an additional triage color for victims with non-survivable injuries.
As present-day threats become more ominous and health care education emphasizes the needs of vulnerable populations and palliative care, the authors hypothesize that, when given a choice, health care students will prefer SALT triage.
A convenience sample of 218 interprofessional, disaster-naïve health care students received just-in-time, unbiased education on both START and SALT triage systems. Students then completed a survey asking them to decide which triage system they believe would be most effective in their community.
A total of 123 health care students (56.4%) preferred SALT while 95 (43.6%) preferred START; however, only the physician assistant students showed a statistically significantly preference (28 versus six, respectively; P=.042). Interestingly, there was also a statistically significant difference in preference by gender (Chi-square=5.02; P=.025) of the observed distribution versus expected distribution in SALT and START. The females preferred SALT (61.0%) while the males preferred START (55.9%).
Among those who preferred START, START being easier to learn was the most important reason cited. Among those who preferred SALT, the most important reason cited was that the number of patient triage categories seemed more logical, comprehensible, and consistent with traditional medical care.
While SALT’s preference among females and physician assistant students was based on the addition of medical interventions and the provision of palliative care, START’s preference was related to expediency. Based on this research, incorporating disaster concepts into US health care students’ curricula encourages thoughtful consideration among the future health care leaders about the most effective approach to triage care. It is critical that further research be completed to determine, without reservation, which triage system will not only save the most lives but provide the most humane care to victims.
Fink BN, Rega PP, Sexton ME, Wishner C. START versus SALT triage: which is preferred by the 21st century health care student? Prehosp Disaster Med. 2018;33(4):381–386