How to triage patients in the emergency department
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

How to triage patients in the emergency department

Hugh Gorick Postgraduate researcher, School of Health Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To understand the necessary preparation required before triaging a patient

  • To familiarise yourself with the steps required when triaging a patient in the emergency department

  • To learn about the scales and algorithms used by nurses when triaging patients

Triaging patients can be a complicated process, with multiple modes of assessment taking place simultaneously, and nurses need to be confident and competent in their assessment skills. This article explains the necessary preparation for triage and outlines the steps that nurses need to take when triaging a patient in the emergency department.

• Triage requires a targeted patient assessment, using both clinical judgement and triage tools to determine appropriate acuity categories.

• Different scales and algorithms are used in triage, so it is essential to clearly communicate the acuity categories assigned to patients.

• A structured approach to patient assessment can guide decision-making and identify issues.

• Various diagnostic tests can be used to facilitate the triage process, but care needs to be taken to ensure the process is not prolonged by their use.

Reflective activity

‘How to’ articles can help to update your practice and ensure it remains evidence based. Apply this article to your practice. Reflect on and write a short account of:

• How this article might improve your practice when assessing the acuity of patients in triage.

• How you could use this information to educate nursing students or your colleagues on the appropriate technique and evidence base regarding the triaging of patients in the emergency department.

Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2023.e2186

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software



Conflict of interest

None declared

Gorick H (2023) How to triage patients in the emergency department. Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2023.e2186


Please note that information provided by Emergency Nurse is not sufficient to make the reader competent to perform the task. All clinical skills should be formally assessed according to local policy and procedures. It is the nurse’s responsibility to ensure their practice remains up to date and reflects the latest evidence

Published online: 16 November 2023

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