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Triage: is it safe to wait?

02 May 2024
11 mins read
Volume 15 · Issue 4


Triage is a systematic approach to categorising veterinary patients to ensure that the most emergent are seen first. Triaging a patient begins by obtaining a capsule history from the owner and performing a triage survey. This involves rapid assessment of the patient's perfusion parameters, and the purpose is to identify life-threatening abnormalities. Patients with life-threatening abnormalities should be immediately taken to the treatment area for assessment. A primary survey is then performed, which, in addition to physical examination, may also include point-of-care diagnostics. Life-saving interventions and therapies are administered during the primary survey to preserve the life of the patient. Once the patient has been stabilised, the veterinarian can perform a secondary survey, which involves a full physical assessment of the patient and obtaining a detailed history from the owner.

The word ‘triage’ originates from the French word ‘trier’ meaning ‘to sort’. The purpose of triage is to categorise and prioritise patients based on the severity of their condition, determined by a systematic evaluation of their clinical parameters, ensuring the most emergent are seen first (Covey, 2018).

Triage can be carried out over the phone, in the waiting room and also in hospitalised patients (Covey, 2018). On completion of a triage survey, veterinary nurses must be able to categorise patients as either unstable requiring immediate treatment or stable and able to wait. This article will discuss the method of performing a triage survey, what to do if a life-threatening abnormality is detected and how to categorise patients.

Clients will typically call their veterinary clinic if they are concerned their pet has become unwell or injured. Triaging over the telephone determines if the pet requires immediate attention or if they can be offered a routine appointment (Covey, 2018). The drawback of telephone triage is that it isn't possible to physically assess the patient and a judgement is made from the information the owner provides. It is important to exercise caution when making a judgement based on information provided by the owner.

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