The Effect of a Rapid Assessment Zone on Emergency Department Operations and Throughput

Ann Emerg Med. 2020 Feb;75(2):236-245. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2019.07.047. Epub 2019 Oct 24.


Study objective: We examine the effects of a front-end flow model designated the rapid assessment zone on multiple emergency department (ED) operational metrics.

Methods: This was a retrospective, before-after study of consecutive patient visits at an urban community ED. Six-month periods were compared before and after an intervention in 2017 that changed patient flow and the intake process. A lead nurse role splits patient flow immediately on patient arrival according to only age and chief complaint, allowing direct bedding without the bottlenecks of vital sign measurement, full triage assessment, or Emergency Severity Index assignment. A new patient care area (designated rapid assessment zone) preferentially expedites treatment of patients likely to remain ambulatory and serves as flexible acute care space when needed by individual cases and the ED. The outcomes measured were ED length of stay, arrival-to-provider time, the rate of leaving before treatment completion, and the rate of leaving before being seen. Data were analyzed with nonparametric testing, χ2 analysis, and multiple linear regression, controlling for patient visit characteristics, ED daily census volumes, and measurements of boarding patients.

Results: We analyzed 43,847 visits in the preintervention and 44,792 visits in the postintervention periods. The intervention was associated with the following changes: median ED length of stay from 203 to 171 minutes (-15.8%), median arrival-to-provider time from 28 to 13 minutes (-53.6%), leaving before treatment completion from 1.0% to 0.8% (-20%), and leaving before being seen from 3.1% to 0.5% (-84%). Regression analysis accounting for multiple confounders demonstrated that the reduced length of stay after rapid assessment zone implementation persisted across Emergency Severity Index levels 2 to 5 and all ED daily census levels.

Conclusion: The rapid assessment zone model aims to decrease front-end bottlenecks and minimize serial intake assessments at a high-volume, urban ED. It was associated with improved patient throughput and decreased early patient departure. It may represent a useful model for similar centers.

MeSH terms

  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Hospital Design and Construction
  • Hospitals, Urban / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Linear Models
  • Massachusetts
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage / methods
  • Triage / organization & administration*
  • Workflow*