Accuracy of emergency medical service telephone triage of need for an ambulance response in suspected COVID-19: an observational cohort study.BMJ Open. 2022 May 16; 12(5):e058628.BO
To assess accuracy of emergency medical service (EMS) telephone triage in identifying patients who need an EMS response and identify factors which affect triage accuracy.
Observational cohort study.
Emergency telephone triage provided by Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) National Health Service (NHS) Trust.
12 653 adults who contacted EMS telephone triage services provided by YAS between 2 April 2020 and 29 June 2020 assessed by COVID-19 telephone triage pathways were included.
Accuracy of call handler decision to dispatch an ambulance was assessed in terms of death or need for organ support at 30 days from first contact with the telephone triage service.
Callers contacting EMS dispatch services had an 11.1% (1405/12 653) risk of death or needing organ support. In total, 2000/12 653 (16%) of callers did not receive an emergency response and they had a 70/2000 (3.5%) risk of death or organ support. Ambulances were dispatched to 4230 callers (33.4%) who were not conveyed to hospital and did not deteriorate. Multivariable modelling found variables of older age (1 year increase, OR: 1.05, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.05) and presence of pre-existing respiratory disease (OR: 1.35, 95% CI: 1.13 to 1.60) to be predictors of false positive triage.
Telephone triage can reduce ambulance responses but, with low specificity. A small but significant proportion of patients who do not receive an initial emergency response deteriorated. Research to improve accuracy of EMS telephone triage is needed and, due to limitations of routinely collected data, this is likely to require prospective data collection.