Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Nursing


School of Nursing


Faculty of Health and Human Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Anne McMurray


A survey of triage systems used in Health Department of Western Australia accident and emergency departments was undertaken to examine differences in practices between departments with and without designated triage nurses (TNs). One questionnaire surveyed 93 nurses in seven departments with TNs, a similar second questionnaire surveyed 89 nurses in 16 departments without TNs, and a third questionnaire was used in a structured telephone interview of receptionists in hospitals without TNs. Data were analysed using frequencies, percentages, means, standard deviations and ranges with common themes identified for open ended questions. The study was guided by Donabedian's systems evaluation model. The structures and processes of triage within each department were examined in relation to the outcome standards recommended by the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards. The study results revealed that triage nurses were employed in all departments where patient attendances exceeded 300 per week and nursing staff coverage in the department was higher than five per day. Three departments had introduced triage on weekends only, and these departments had the lowest nurse-patient ratio of one nurse per day to 74 patients per week. The highest nurse-patient ratio was in departments with TNs (1-35). Conclusions drawn from the findings suggest that when receptionists are the first person to see patients, they triage patients using an unsatisfactory two category priority system. The average waiting time to see nursing staff is too long in departments without TNs, 7.6 minutes, as compared to 3. 7 minutes in department with TNs. Nursing staff perceived that triage systems could be improved by having only experienced staff as the triageur. The surveillance of patients entering the department is unsatisfactory as 81% of departments without TNs and 43% of departments with TNs are unable to provide nurse surveillance. The surveillance of the waiting room is similarly unsatisfactory in many departments. All triage areas are inadequate, as facilities for private conversation, hand washing and physical assessment are not always available. The majority of departments without TNs do not have a satisfactory triage priority category system in place. The average time taken by nursing staff to triage patients is an acceptable 3.2 minutes in departments with TNs, and 5.3 minutes in departments without TNs. The practice of redirecting patients away from the department could compromise patient safety as patients are redirected away from most departments by any level of staff employed in the department, without any written documentation kept or any written criteria for the redirection of these non-urgent patients. The practice of ordering investigations and treating minor problems without referring to a doctor could also compromise patient safety, as most departments do not have written policies and guidelines to cover this practice. Most departments offer an inadequate triage training program of preceptoring only. Recommendations are focused on the reviewing of existing triage practices to comply with the standards identified.

Included in

Nursing Commons