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Triage Status

Triage Status

Derived from the French word “trier,” triage means to separate or sort out.

This is how triage status works: in a multi-casualty situation, each individual patient undergoes a brief examination by a specially trained EMS provider, who will determine the apparent severity of the injury or illness. A patient who has a potentially life-threatening condition would obviously receive a higher treatment priority than someone with a sprained ankle or broken finger.

Emergency Triage Color Coding

After a triage assessment is completed, a label called a triage tag is placed on the patient. The triage tag identifies the patient and includes information about his or her condition and need for treatment. The triage tag is sometimes color-coded so that a quick glance can give care providers an immediate indication of the triage prioritization. The triage tag is also used to track the patient’s progress through the triage process.

There are five color-coded triage tags that identify the condition and current treatment requirements of the victim:

  • Red tag: A red tag indicates the most urgent treatment need. The individual has suffered life-threatening injuries but has a chance for survival if he or she receives immediate medical attention.
  • Yellow tag: The individual’s condition is stable and there is no immediate danger of death, although later triage may be necessary. The victim still requires observation and hospitalization.
  • Green tag: These victims are referred to as the “walking wounded.” Their injuries are not life-threatening, and they should receive care after those with red or yellow tags.
  • White tag: Victims who receive white tags are those who have only minor injuries that do not require further medical treatment.
  • Black tags: Used for the deceased and for those whose injuries are so extensive that they will not be able to survive given the care that is available.

How are Triage Assessments Performed?

When a mass casualty incident [link to MCI Management Software page] occurs, the responsibility to perform a triage assessment typically rests on the shoulders of the emergency responders. The mass casualty triage assessment process can be extremely challenging for multiple reasons. There could be dozens, or even hundreds, of people who need medical attention — many of the injuries are also likely to be of a complex nature. The high degree of chaos and confusion that is normally present at MCI scenes can further complicate the triage process.

Because of the high volume of injuries or illnesses during an MCI, it is imperative that triage is administered as quickly as possible. A basic triage process for patient assessment is S.T.A.R.T., which stands for “simple triage and rapid treatment.” S.T.A.R.T. assessments encompass four areas:

  • The patient’s ability to walk and follow basic commands
  • Respirations
  • Level of circulatory system profusion
  • Mental status and alertness

During MCI triage, the victims are generally classified in one of three categories based on their apparent need for medical treatment: immediate, delayed or minor. How long should a triage assessment take? Because of the need to attend to as many individuals as possible in a short amount of time, the entire S.T.A.R.T. assessment should be completed in no more than 30 seconds.