Article

Traditional nurse triage vs physician telepresence in a pediatric ED

a b s t r a c t

Objectives: The objective of the study is to compare traditional nurse triage (TNT) in a pediatric emergency department (PED) with physician telepresence (PTP).

Methods: This is a prospective 2 x 2 crossover study with random assignment using a sample of walk-in patients seeking care in a PED at a large, Tertiary care children’s hospital, from May 2012 to January 2013. Outcomes of Triage times, documentation errors, triage scores, and survey responses were compared between TNT and PTP. Comparison between PTP to actual treating PED physicians regarding the accuracy of ordering blood and Urine tests, throat cultures, and radiologic imaging was also studied.

Results: Paired samples t tests showed a statistically significant difference in triage time between TNT and PTP (P = .03) but no significant difference in documentation errors (P = .10). Triage scores of TNT were 71% accurate, compared with PTP, which were 95% accurate. Both parents and children had favorable scores regarding PTP, and most indicated that they would prefer PTP again at their next PED visit. Physician telepresence diagnostic ordering was comparable with the actual PED physician ordering, showing no statistical differences.

Conclusions: Using PTP technology to remotely perform triage is a feasible alternative to traditional nurse triage, with no clinically significant differences in time, triage scores, errors, and patient and parent satisfaction.

(C) 2014

  1. Introduction

Emergency departments (EDs) around the country have become strained to capacity. Within the last decade, the number of EDs has decreased, whereas the number of ED visits has increased [1]. In April 2009, the United States Government Accountability Office submitted a report to the Chairman of the Committee of Finance in the US Senate indicating that EDs nationwide have become more overcrowded with longer wait times and lengths of stay [2]. Emergency department overcrowding has been associated with decreased patient satisfaction

[3]; decreased staff satisfaction and productivity [4,5]; and, most importantly, worse patient outcomes [6,7]. With limited Health care resources, innovations to improve patient safety and efficiency are needed [8,9].

The implementation of physician telepresence (PTP) in the field of medicine might be an innovation helpful in providing care. Currently, there is limited literature on the use of PTP in an ED or pediatric setting. Thus far, adult- and geriatric-related research indicates that telepresence and robotic technology may productively be used in poststroke rehabilitation [10], postoperative rounding on patients

? Funding sources/disclosures: This work was supported in part by grant number UL1TR000130, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

* Corresponding author. Division of Emergency and Transport Medicine, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA. Tel.: +1 323 361 2109; fax: +1 323

361 3891.

E-mail address: [email protected] (G.P. Marconi).

[11], and personal services for the elderly [12]. Regarding attitudes, a 2010 study by Braodbent et al [13] showed that individuals older than 40 years viewed the use of this technology in health care as having benefits, but some participants had concerns about reliability, safety, and loss of personal care. With the advent of the Internet and video games, the pediatric population may be more willing to accept physician telemedicine and more apt to assimilate to changing technology in health care than the adult patient population [14].

Up until now, innovations to improve ED efficiency have mostly concentrated on throughput, moving patients efficiently and safely upon their arrival to the ED [15,16]. Studies have shown sporadic decreased lengths of stay with modifications, such as diagnostic ordering beginning at triage [17,18] and having interchangeable physician and nurse presence in triage [19-22].

The primary goal of this study is to compare the utility of traditional nurse triage (TNT) in a pediatric ED to PTP in triage. In addition, a secondary goal of the study is to compare the diagnostic ordering of PTP to the actual PED physician. This study is an initial step in demonstrating the feasibility of PTP as an alternative to standard nurse triage without physically placing a Physician in triage.

  1. Methods
    1. Study design

This 2 x 2 crossover study was conducted using a sample of walk- in patients seeking care in the pediatric ED (PED) from May 2012 to

0735-6757/$ – see front matter (C) 2014 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2013.12.032

January 2013. The study was submitted and approved by the institutional review board at the study institution. Before data collection, reliability of PTP was performed by 3 study physician investigators. This assessment began with the 3 physicians observing the same 11 TNT sessions consecutively and independently reporting a triage score for each patient triaged. The study physician in- vestigators performed these assessments without discussing the scoring decisions with each other. Two intraclass correlation co- efficients were computed (ie, mixed model intraclass Correlation coefficients [ICCs]), one for the absolute agreement (ie, degree to which all physicians assigned exactly the same triage score for each TNT session) and the other for consistency (ie, degree to which all physicians shared the same reporting pattern, such as consistently assigning high or low triage scores) [23].

Study setting and population

The study was performed at a large, tertiary care children’s hospital with an approximate annual PED visit volume of approxi- mately 65000. Patients arriving with a parent or legal guardian to the PED who appeared stable as assessed by the ED nurse screener were approached by a study investigator or research assistant (RA) to participate in the study. Patients were excluded if they arrived via an ambulance or air transport, appeared in significant respiratory distress, were in imminent need of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or if they appeared unstable to the ED nurse screener based on their Clinical impression.

Study protocol

After informed consent was obtained, patients were randomized to receive either TNT or PTP first. Computer-generated randomization lists were constructed using the Web site random.org [24]. After completing the first triage, patients were accompanied to an adjacent room to complete the alternate triage method. No patient was denied standard of care (TNT), and parents or patients who declined to participate received TNT. Parents could voluntarily withdraw their child from the study at any time.

Traditional nurse triage was performed according to standard ED Triage protocols using the Emergency Severity Index Triaging System [25]. triage procedures included gathering vital signs, administrating antipyretics or analgesics as indicated, providing triage first aid, obtaining a brief history, and performing a tailored physical examination. Triage nurses documented their findings on the institutional paper triage form as part of the medical record. The 5- level ESI system is designed to triage patients based on the number of resources potentially needed and Acuity level. Table 1 shows the different levels of the ESI system.

Physician telepresence was performed in the adjacent triage room using an RP-7i robot, which is a mobile, remote-controlled tele- presence technology with full audio and video capabilities, including a built-in stethoscope (InTouch Health, Santa Barbara, CA). The RP-7i combines remote control robotics and remote presence technologies, allowing a remote clinician to see and interact with patients and staff while managing care delivery [26]. The investigators controlling the

RP-7i were ED physicians, board certified in pediatrics or pediatric emergency medicine. Physician telepresence performed the same tasks as the triage nurse, including documenting findings on an identical blank paper triage form. In addition, the PTP documented the decision to perform various tests, such as asking for urine testing, a throat swab for rapid streptococcal testing, blood tests, and radiographs, all of which could potentially be performed in the ED, if ordered by the treating ED physician. A comparison was made between the tests ordered by the treating physician in the ED and the tests ordered by PTP during the triage evaluation. The patient’s treating physician made the actual decision to order the tests performed. Physical tasks requiring touch, such as the placement of a stethoscope, were performed by a patient care service assistant (PCSA) or similarly trained RA in concert with the remotely stationed physician. The PCSAs were employees of the hospital, and the RAs were volunteers, and all were emergency medical technician trained. Vital signs–including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight of patient and administration of medications, such as antipyretics or analgesics– were not repeated during PTP.

The triage nurse was separated from the RP-7i in a separate, soundproof triage room. The monitoring of time for both versions of triage included measuring History taking and the triage physical examination; time taken for vital signs and medication administra- tion, which were not necessarily done concurrently, was subtracted from the total TNT timing. To ensure accurate timing, 2 RAs independently measured all versions of triage using stopwatches for all study patients. The triage nurse and PTP were blinded to the ordering of the 2 forms of triage and details obtained in the alternate method of triage. Once both triage assessments were completed, the patient and family exited the triage area and entered the ED as per standard of care, and a survey interview regarding their views about PTP vs TNT was read to them while awaiting treatment in the ED. The survey consisted of nine 5-point Likert items and 1 yes-no item for assessing appropriateness, feasibility, enjoyment, and acceptability of the RP-7i, which was completed by each parent and also by patients older than 7 years. Survey questions were derived and developed by the primary investigator, with collaboration from all coinvestigators. Parents and patients were separated when surveys were conducted to assure independent, noninfluenced responses. Item scores greater than 3 on the Likert represented positive responses to PTP [27].

Documentation errors were counted for both forms of triage. Errors were defined as information missing or skipped on the triage form (eg, date, start and stop time of triage, patient name, date of birth, medical history, and the different parts of the physical examination separated by systems). There were 27 separate items on each triage form that were required by the institution for complete triage documentation; missing values on any of the 27 items counted as errors. Because vital signs and weight were not measured by PTP, these items were not counted as errors if missing.

Measures and outcomes

The primary outcome variables were triage time, documentation errors, triage scoring, and parent and patient attitudes toward PTP. A

Table 1

Description of ESI levels

Triage level

Triage coding

Description

1

Critical

Patients requiring immediate life-saving intervention

2

Emergent

Patients in High-risk situations; confused, lethargic, or disoriented or in severe pain or distress.

3

Urgent

OR

Patients requiring many resources and have vital signs that exceed critical criterion Patients requiring many resources

4

Semiurgent

Patients requiring 1 resource

5

Nonurgent

Patients requiring no resources

secondary outcome evaluated was diagnostic testing agreement between PTP and the treating ED physician.

Rationale

To show the utility of telepresence in medicine, the scope of this pilot study included evaluating PTP as an alternative method to TNT in a PED. Although it was not the aim of the study, one might possibly surmise the generalizability of using PTP to help out a rural health care setting lacking subspecialists, accepting facilities coordinating critical care transports or disaster and surge conditions. Costs and efficiency were beyond the scope of this study. The design of the study used 2 groups (TNT and PTP) that were inherently not equivalent. Only 3 physicians were trained in using the telepresence equipment. Given the Crossover design, a third arm, in addition to the physicians who were trained in operating the telepresence equipment, was not possible. By necessity, the study was the first attempt to show that PTP could be effective and useful in triage. Although nurse triage and physician triage are not equal, within the framework of the PED and the inability to compare like personnel, it was our hope to show that PTP can be useful modality.

Data analysis

IBM SPSS for Windows (version 19, 2010; IBM Corp, Armonk, NY) was used for all analyses. Because the study was a 2 x 2 crossover design, the Hills-Armitage approach was used to test for period effects and unequal carryover effects, which are limitations of the crossover design [28]. The conditions in this study were TNT and PTP. A period is defined as an occasion on which a condition is applied. In our study, there was only 1 period per condition. A potential period effect in the study was considered to be whether the PTP or TNT condition was implemented first or second and if this affected outcomes. In other words, sequences could affect the outcomes. To test for period effects, crossover differences (ie, difference between PTP and TNT) were compared between sequences. Unequal carryover effects were considered to be outcomes of 1 condition that were affected by the condition from the previous period. To test for unequal carryover effects, the sums between the first period and the second period were compared between sequences. If no period effects and no unequal carryover effects were found, the paired samples t test could be used to compare PTP and TNT outcomes within each patient. Regarding the sample size calculation, based on the 2-tailed paired samples t test, setting ? = .05 and power at 80% to detect a small effect size would require at least 70 participants.

For both parent and patient surveys, internal consistency of the 9 Likert items altogether was analyzed using Cronbach ?, and 1 item per version was deleted if its item total correlation was less than 0.10 so that mean total scores were computed based on 8 items altogether. Summary statistics (eg, means) were used to examine parent and patient attitudes toward PTP.

Finally, Fisher exact test and ? were used to examine diagnostic testing agreement between PTP and the treating physician. All statistical tests were 2 tailed at ? = .05.

  1. Results

The reliability of PTP was evaluated using ICCs before data collection. Absolute agreement ICC (single measure) was 0.97 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.93-0.99). Consistency ICC (average mea- sures) was 0.99 (95% CI, 0.96-0.98). Both ICCs were high, thereby representing high PTP reliability.

Overall, a total of 132 families were approached to participate in the study. During this 8-month study period, 100 patients (54 males and 46 females) agreed to participate (76% of total approached), of which the mean age was 5.99 years (SD, 4.34; range, 1-15). Given the

2 x 2 crossover design of the study with random assignment, 54 of 100 participating patients were seen by PTP first and TNT second, and the remaining 46 were seen by TNT first and PTP second. Among the 32 patients who declined (13 males and 19 females), the mean age was 5.77 years (SD, 4.61; range, 1-17). There were no statistically significant differences in sex distribution (P = .27) and age (P = .81) between patients who accepted and declined participation. The most common reason for refusing participation was that the parent felt that their child was too sick to be a study participant.

Table 2 shows means for TNT and PTP triage time and documentation errors. Mean TNT triage time was 2.79 minutes, and mean documentation errors were 0.32 per 27 potential errors. Mean PTP triage time was 3.00 minutes, and mean documentation errors were 0.18 per 27 potential errors. There were no period effects and no unequal carryover effects found for triage time (P = .63 and P = .53, respectively) and documentation errors (P = .29 and P = .10, respectively). Therefore, the paired samples t test showed a statistically significant difference in triage time between TNT and PTP (P = .03). The paired samples t test showed no significant difference in documentation errors (P = .10).

Table 3 shows the TNT and PTP triage scoring compared to

the actual triage score, verified by what was actually done by the treating PED physician for the patient following the patient’s ESI triage assignment.

Table 4 shows the difference between TNT and PTP for survey scores. The mean total scores for parents and patients showed a positive overall response to PTP. Patients were more likely than parents to request PTP again at their next visit to the ED.

Table 5 shows diagnostic orders by PTP and the actual treating PED physician. Overall, PTP was comparable with the treating ED physician.

  1. Discussion

Physician telepresence has been shown to be an effective method to allow physicians stationed off-site to perform effectively in triage with diagnostic capabilities. This had been shown in adult medicine for burns [29] and myocardial infarctions [30], but PTP has not been studied extensively in general triAge SItuations, particularly in a PED. Overall, PTP is comparable with TNT in terms of triage time, errors, and scoring. In addition, PTP diagnostic ordering practices are comparable with the treating PED physician. The option to start patient care in triage may have many advantages including Improved care, patient flow, wait times, lengths of stay, and cost effectiveness. Physician telepresence has the capability of functioning from alternative locations, even from another state or country. This pilot study is an initial evaluation demonstrating the feasibility of PTP in a unique clinical setting.

There was a statistically significant difference in triage time between TNT and PTP. Traditional nurse triage nurses have more triage training than PTP, which might be 1 factor explaining the faster performance by TNT. Moreover, physicians are trained to take a more

Table 2

Traditional nurse triage and PTP for triage errors and time

TNT

PTP

Time (min)

Mean

2.79

3.00

SD

0.90

0.63

Range

1.17-6.00

1.70-5.28

95% CI of mean

2.61, 2.97

2.87, 3.12

P

.03

Errors (total number)

Mean

0.32

0.18

SD

0.63

0.50

Range

0-3

0-3

95% CI of mean

0.19-0.45

0.08-0.28

P

.10

Table 3

Traditional nurse triage and PTP triage score accuracy compared to the actual triage score

Blood

Throat

Urine

Radiographic

Triage scoring

TNT

PTP

studies

culture

studies

studies

Incorrect scoring (count)

29

5

PTP

Total ordered

5

2

20

25

Accuracy (%)

71%

95%

Total not ordered

95

98

80

75

95% CI of accuracy

62%-80%

91%-99%

Actual ED

Total ordered

2

4

17

19

physician

Total not ordered

98

96

83

81

P

.445

.683

.716

.394

?

0.56

0.66

0.83

0.83

Table 5

Diagnostic orders by PTP and treating PED physician

extensive history and perform a more comprehensive examination. Nonetheless, a clinical implication of this finding is that having physicians in triage evaluating patients and starting patient care might offset the slight delay in triage duration [31].

Our study showed no statistically significant difference in documentation errors made on the triage form between TNT and PTP, whereby both showed low rates of errors. Documentation errors are one of the many reasons Medical errors occur within an ED [32]. Errors made on triage documentation may carry-on or contribute to subsequent documentation errors by the treating physician through- out the ED course, hence, the importance of Accurate documentation at the start of triage.

Triage scoring for PTP had higher agreement with actual triage score, in contrast to TNT who had lower agreement. Because triage scoring is linked to resource utilization (eg, consultants called or bloodwork performed), the high agreement between actual and PTP triage scores may be interpreted as representing the more accurate and advanced knowledge PTP might have, which parallels patient care orders regularly occurring within the ED [33,34].

Physician telepresence was perceived as favorable on survey responses. As expected, patients were more likely to favor PTP than their parents. It is possible that children regularly exposed to new technologies, possibly more than their parents, are more open to accepting new technologies, including those offered in our study [35]. When comparing PTP to actual Order entry by the treating PED physician, there were low frequencies of blood and throat testing ordered by both, which suggest that comparisons between the 2 regarding diagnostic testing should be considered tentative. Captur- ing data from more patients requiring blood and throat testing may clarify the difference in Ordering patterns between PTP and the actual

treating ED physician.

Although our study used telepresence technology to assist with triage, an alternative technology is being developed, which shows promise in triage. A group of computer engineers at Vanderbilt University has created an automated robotic system, coined Triagebot, to perform many of the duties a traditional triage nurse would perform in an ED [36]. Because the system is not yet operational and it is not anticipated to be widely available for the next several years, the future of this form of technology is imminent. Therefore, there is great potential for teletriaging in PEDs possible for several techno- logical devices.

As with all new technologies, future studies are needed to look more directly at the impact of efficiency and cost savings with the implementation of PTP. In addition, future research comparing TNT

Table 4

Traditional nurse triage and PTP survey results

Parent (n = 100)

Patient (n = 36)

Survey Cronbach ?a

0.73

0.69

Mean total score

29.95

30.75

SD

4.19

4.69

Range

20-38

22-40

95% CI

29.50-31.33

29.16-32.34

Preferred PTP next ED visit

59%

83%

a One item deleted per parent and patient survey due to item total correlation less than 0.10; maximum total possible score for both versions (8 items each) is 40.

with a nurse telepresence triage may offer another practical approach to triaging. In addition, PTP in triage might be beneficial in hospitals and other clinical care settings that do not routinely care for children by having a pediatrician or emergency physician on the premises. Physician telepresence may also provide a significant benefit to patients cared for in rural, small town hospitals that are not staffed with trained pediatricians or emergency physicians. Similarly, PTP might be useful when transferring a patient to another institution, allowing the accepting physicians to see the patient before arrival.

Limitations

This was a pilot study looking at the feasibility of PTP to perform the duties of a triage provider within a PED. Because of the limited scope and relatively small population of patients studied, results may not be generalizable to other ED settings.

The design of the study compared TNT and PTP, not equivalent groups. Working within the already established design of the institution’s ED, our control group (TNT) could not be changed or altered for patient care, making it difficult to change the design of the study to make a more direct comparison.

The telepresence technology used did not have arms making vital sign acquisition and providing first aid impossible without a human provider. The design of triage done in this study required a PCSA or RA to be with the patient and to assist with the functions the telepresence technology could not perform independently. Vital signs and medication administration were done only during TNT. This made the timing of each form of triage less precise. Because vital signs and medication administration were not necessarily done concurrently, we used 2 RAs to measure triage times independently using stopwatches. They each stopped the triage duration timing during TNT while vital signs were taken or medications, such as Tylenol or Motrin, were given.

We did not enroll for critical (ESI Level 1) and emergent (ESI Level 2) patients, and only included participants who were triaged as urgent, semiurgent, and nonurgent. By excluding true critical and emergent patients, we removed an aspect of triaging that might have defined other differences between TNT and PTP. Ethically, it was not appropriate to “double triage” those patients requiring immediate care.

  1. Conclusions

Using PTP technology to perform triage is a feasible alternative to TNT, with no clinically significant differences in time, triage scores, errors, and patient and parent satisfaction. Physician telepresence is comparable with test ordering practices by the treating physician.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Colleen Azen, MS, for her tremendous assistance with statistical analysis and Erin Taketomo for her help as a RA in data collection.

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