Triage is a critical first step in appropriately caring for patients in the emergency department. Patients’ assumptions of the care they will receive can be established in triage. Interruptions to this process can disrupt patient flow, cause errors and lead to patient dissatisfaction. The purpose of this study was to determine how the frequency and duration of interruptions during triage are associated with errors, patient satisfaction, and patient’s perception of the care they received.
Prospective, observational, cohort study conducted in the emergency department of a Level 1 trauma center. Interruptions were measured using time-and-motion observations of triage interviews performed by nurses and physicians. Patients were surveyed immediately after triage interviews were complete.
Surveys were completed for 178 observations. 62.9% of the observations were interrupted between 1 and 5 times. While interruptions did not significantly influence patient satisfaction directly, interruptions positively influenced triage duration, which was negatively associated with patient satisfaction. Increased errors were associated with increasing frequency of triage interruptions. Triage interruptions were not associated with either patient satisfaction or perceived caregiver competence. Overall, the majority (76.6%) of patients were satisfied with their care; patient satisfaction was associated with the perceived competency of caregivers but was not associated with errors.
Interruptions are associated with increased errors and delays in patient care. Although increased triage duration adversely affected patient satisfaction, patients’ perceptions were not influenced by interruptions. While patient satisfaction is essential, the lack of association between patient satisfaction and errors suggests that using patient satisfaction as a measure of care quality may omit important safety information.