Pitfalls in the triage and evaluation of patients with suspected acute ethanol intoxication in an emergency department

Intern Emerg Med. 2019 Apr;14(3):467-473. doi: 10.1007/s11739-018-2007-7. Epub 2018 Dec 14.


Acute ethanol intoxication (AEI) is frequent in emergency departments (EDs). These patients are at risk of mistriage, and to leave the ED without being seen. This study's objective was to describe the process and performance of triage and trajectory for patients with suspected AEI. Retrospective, observational study on adults admitted with a suspected AEI within 1 year at the ED of an urban teaching hospital. Data on the triage process, patients' characteristics, and their ED stay were extracted from electronic patient records. Predictors for leaving without being seen were identified using logistic regression analyzes. Of 60,488 ED patients within 1 year, 776 (1.3%) were triaged with suspected AEI. This population was young (mean age 38), primarily male (64%), and professionally inactive (56%). A large proportion were admitted on weekends (45%), at night (46%), and arrived by ambulance (85%). The recommendations of our triage scale were entirely respected in a minority of cases. In 22.7% of triage situations, a triage reason other than "alcohol abuse/intoxication" (such as suicidal ideation, head trauma or other substance abuse) should have been selected. Nearly, half of the patients (49%) left without being seen (LWBS). This risk was especially high amongst men (OR 1.56, 95% CI 1.12-2.19), younger patients (< 26 years of age; OR 1.97, 95% CI 1.16-3.35), night-time admissions (OR 1.97, 95% CI 1.16-3.35), and patients assigned a lower emergency level (OR 2.32, 95% CI 1.58-3.42). Despite a standardized triage protocol, patients admitted with suspected AEI are at risk of poor assessment, and of not receiving optimal care.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02449772.

Keywords: Alcoholic intoxication; Emergency service (Hospital); Left without being seen; Triage.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage / methods
  • Triage / standards*
  • Triage / trends

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02449772