Implementing a structured triage system at a community health centre using Kaizen

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South African Family Practice

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University of Cape Town

Background: More than 100 unbooked patients present daily to the Mitchell’s Plain Community Health Centre (MPCHC), and are triaged by a doctor, with the assistance of a staff nurse. The quality of the triage assessments has been found to be variable, with patients often being deferred without their vital signs being recorded. This leads to frustration, and a resultant increased workload for doctors; management is concerned with the medicolegal risk of deferring patients who have not been triaged in accordance with the guidelines; and patients are unhappy with the quality of service they receive. Aim: We set out to standardise the triage process and to manage unbooked patients presenting to the community health centre (CHC) in a manner that is medico-legally safe, cost efficient and patient friendly, using the Kaizen method. Methods: The principles of Kaizen were used to observe and identify inefficiencies in the existing triage process at the MPCHC. Findings were analysed and interventions introduced to improve outcomes. The new processes were, in turn, validated and standardised. Results: The majority of patients presenting to Triage were those needing reissuing of prescriptions for their chronic medication, and this prevented practitioners from timeously attending to other patients waiting to be seen. Reorganising of the process was needed; it was necessary to separate the patients needing triage from those requiring only prescriptions to be reissued. After the intervention, triage was performed by a staff nurse only, using the Cape Triage Score (CTS) method. Subsequent to the implementation of interventions, no patients have been deferred, and all patients are now assessed according to a standardised protocol. The reasons for patients requiring reissuing of prescriptions were numerous, and implementing countermeasures to the main causes thereof decreased the number of reissues by 50%. Conclusion: The Kaizen method can be used to improve the triage process for unbooked patients at the MPCHC, thereby improving the quality of services delivered to these patients. As the needs of the various CHCs differ quite widely across the service platform, the model needs to be adapted to suit local conditions.