Validity of telephone and physical triage in emergency care: the Netherlands Triage System

Fam Pract. 2011 Jun;28(3):334-41. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmq097. Epub 2010 Nov 24.


Background: Due to emergency care overcrowding, right care at the right place and time is necessary. Uniform triage of patients contacting different emergency care settings will improve quality of care and communication between health care providers.

Objective: Validation of the computer-based Netherlands Triage System (NTS) developed for physical triage at emergency departments (EDs) and telephone triage at general practitioner cooperatives (GPCs).

Methods: Prospective observational study with patients attending the ED of a university-affiliated hospital (September 2008 to November 2008) or contacting an urban GPC (December 2008 to February 2009). For validation of the NTS, we defined surrogate urgency markers as best proxies for true urgency. For physical triage (ED): resource use, hospitalization and follow-up. For telephone triage (GPC): referral to ED, self-care advice after telephone consultation or GP advice after physical consultation. Associations between NTS urgency levels and surrogate urgency markers were evaluated using chi-square tests for trend.

Results: We included nearly 10 000 patients. For physical triage at ED, NTS urgency levels were associated with resource use, hospitalization and follow-up. For telephone triage at GPC, trends towards more ED referrals in high NTS urgency levels and more self-care advices after telephone consultation in lower NTS urgency levels were found. The association between NTS urgency classification and GP advice was less explicit. Similar results were found for children; however, we found no association between NTS urgency level and GP advice.

Conclusions: Physically and telephone-assigned NTS urgency levels were associated with majority of surrogate urgency markers. The NTS as single triage system for physical and telephone triage seems feasible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • After-Hours Care*
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • General Practice / organization & administration*
  • Hotlines
  • Humans
  • Netherlands
  • Physical Examination
  • Prospective Studies
  • Triage / methods*