Understanding triage assessment of acuity by emergency nurses at initial adult patient presentation: A qualitative systematic review

Hugh Gorick (Lead Author), Marie McGee, Gemma Wilson, Emma Williams, Jaimik Patel, Anna Zonato, Wilfred Ayodele, Sabina Shams, Luca Di Battista, Toby O. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Background: Nurses make complex triage decisions within emergency departments, which significantly affect patient outcomes. Understanding how nurses make these decisions and why they deviate from triage algorithms facilitates interventions that work with their decision-making processes, increasing acceptability and effectiveness.

Aims: This qualitative systematic review aimed to understand decision-making processes emergency nurses use to make acuity decisions during triage assessment at initial patient presentation.

Methodology: Medline, CINAHL and Academic Search Complete were systematically searched to 15th December 2022. Data were analysed using thematic synthesis. Established themes were reviewed with GRADE-CERQual to evaluate certainty of evidence.

Results: 28 studies were included in the review. Data analysis uncovered three superordinate themes of holistic reasoning, situational awareness, and informed decision-making. The findings show nurses value holistic assessments over algorithms and rely on knowledge and experience. They also assess the wider situation in the emergency department.

Conclusions: This review presents new perspectives on nurses’ decision-making processes about patient’s acuity. Nurses holistically gather information about patients before translating that information into acuity scores. These actions are informed by their knowledge and experience; however, the wider situation also impacts their decisions. In turn, the nurses use interpretations of patients’ acuity to control the wider situation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101334
JournalInternational Emergency Nursing
Early online date14 Sep 2023
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • Triage
  • Nurses
  • Emergency Department
  • Systematic Review

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