Bayesian assessment of overtriage and undertriage at a level I trauma centre

Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2008 Jul 13;366(1874):2265-77. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0036.


We analysed the trauma triage system at a specific level I trauma centre to assess rates of over- and undertriage and to support recommendations for system improvements. The triage process is designed to estimate the severity of patient injury and allocate resources accordingly, with potential errors of overestimation (overtriage) consuming excess resources and underestimation (undertriage) potentially leading to medical errors.We first modelled the overall trauma system using risk analysis methods to understand interdependencies among the actions of the participants. We interviewed six experienced trauma surgeons to obtain their expert opinion of the over- and undertriage rates occurring in the trauma centre. We then assessed actual over- and undertriage rates in a random sample of 86 trauma cases collected over a six-week period at the same centre. We employed Bayesian analysis to quantitatively combine the data with the prior probabilities derived from expert opinion in order to obtain posterior distributions. The results were estimates of overtriage and undertriage in 16.1 and 4.9% of patients, respectively. This Bayesian approach, which provides a quantitative assessment of the error rates using both case data and expert opinion, provides a rational means of obtaining a best estimate of the system's performance. The overall approach that we describe in this paper can be employed more widely to analyse complex health care delivery systems, with the objective of reduced errors, patient risk and excess costs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Biometry
  • Data Collection
  • Expert Testimony
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Risk Management
  • Systems Analysis
  • Trauma Centers / classification
  • Trauma Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy