Complexity-augmented triage: A tool for improving patient safety and operational efficiency

Soroush Saghafian, Wallace J. Hopp, Mark P. Van Oyen, Jeffrey S. Desmond, Steven L. Kronick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Hospital emergency departments (EDs) typically use triage systems that classify and prioritize patients almost exclusively in terms of their need for timely care. Using a combination of analytic and simulation models, we demonstrate that adding an up-front estimate of patient complexity to conventional urgency-based classification can substantially improve both patient safety (by reducing the risk of adverse events) and operational efficiency (by shortening the average length of stay). Moreover, we find that EDs with high resource (physician and/or examination room) utilization, high heterogeneity in the treatment time between simple and complex patients, and a relatively equal number of simple and complex patients benefit most from complexity-augmented triage. Finally, we find that (1) although misclassification of a complex patient as simple is slightly more harmful than vice versa, complexity-augmented triage is relatively robust to misclassification error rates as high as 25%; (2) streaming patients based on complexity information and prioritizing them based on urgency is better than doing the reverse; and (3) separating simple and complex patients via streaming facilitates the application of lean methods that can further amplify the benefit of complexity-augmented triage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-345
Number of pages17
JournalManufacturing and Service Operations Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


  • Emergency department
  • Healthcare operations
  • Markov decision processes
  • Patient prioritization
  • Priority queues
  • Triage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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