Patient sex, racial and ethnic disparities in emergency department triage: A multi-site retrospective study

Am J Emerg Med. 2024 Feb:76:29-35. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2023.11.008. Epub 2023 Nov 10.


Objectives: There is limited evidence on sex, racial, and ethnic disparities in Emergency Department (ED) triage across diverse settings. We evaluated differences in the assignment of Emergency Severity Index (ESI) by patient sex and race/ethnicity, accounting for age, clinical factors, and ED operating conditions.

Methods: We conducted a multi-site retrospective study of adult patients presenting to high-volume EDs from January 2019-February 2020. Patient-level data were obtained and analyzed from three EDs (academic, metropolitan community, and rural community) affiliated with a large health system in the Southeastern United States. For the study outcome, ESI levels were grouped into three categories: 1-2 (highest acuity), 3, and 4-5 (lowest acuity). Multinomial logistic regression was used to compare ESI categories by patient race/ethnicity and sex jointly (referent = White males), adjusted for patient age, insurance status, ED arrival mode, chief complaint category, comorbidity score, time of day, day of week, and average ED wait time.

Results: We identified 186,840 eligible ED visits with 56,417 from the academic ED, 69,698 from the metropolitan community ED, and 60,725 from the rural community ED. Patient cohorts between EDs varied by patient age, race/ethnicity, and insurance status. The majority of patients were assigned ESI 3 in the academic and metropolitan community EDs (61% and 62%, respectively) whereas 47% were assigned ESI 3 in the rural community ED. In adjusted analyses, White females were less likely to be assigned ESI 1-2 compared to White males although both groups were roughly comparable in the assignment of ESI 4-5. Non-White and Hispanic females were generally least likely to be assigned ESI 1-2 in all EDs. Interactions between ED wait time and race/ethnicity-sex were not statistically significant.

Conclusions: This retrospective study of adult ED patients revealed sex and race/ethnicity-based differences in ESI assignment, after accounting for age, clinical factors, and ED operating conditions. These disparities persisted across three different large EDs, highlighting the need for ongoing research to address inequities in ED triage decision-making and associated patient-centered outcomes.

Keywords: Disparities; Emergency department; Triage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Ethnicity*
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Racial Groups*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Triage*
  • United States