Acute respiratory infections: Can a non-physician practitioner triage and treat patients by using an algorithm? Experience in a military primary care clinic

Daniel Golan*, Michael Zagetzki, Shlomo Vinker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Acute respiratory viral infections are minor self-limited diseases. Studies have shown that patients with ARVI can be treated as effectively by non-physician practitioners as by physicians. Objectives: To examine whether a military medic, using a structured questionnaire and an algorithm, can appropriately triage patients to receive over-the-counter medications and refer more complicated cases to a physician. Methods: The study group comprised 190 consecutive soldiers who presented to a military primary care clinic with symptoms of ARVI. Using a questionnaire, a medic recorded the patient's history and measured oral temperature, pulse rate and blood pressure. All patients were referred to a doctor. Physicians were "blind" to the medic's anamnesis and to the algorithm diagnosis. We compared the medic's anamnesis and therapeutic decisions with those of the doctors. Results: Patients were young (21.1 ± 3.7 years) and generally healthy (93% without background illness). They usually had a minor disease (64% without fever) that was mostly diagnosed as viral ARVI (83% of cases). Ninety-nine percent were also examined by a physician. According to the patients' data, the medics showed high overall agreement with the doctors (83-97.9%). The proposed algorithm could have saved 37% of referrals to physicians, with a sensitivity of 95.2%. Had the medics been allowed to examine the pharynx for an exudate, the sensitivity might have been 97.6%. Conclusions: Medics, equipped with a questionnaire and algorithm but without special training and without performing a physical examination, can appropriately triage patients and thereby reduce the number of referrals to physicians.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)578-582
Number of pages5
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Volume7
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2005

Keywords

  • Algorithm
  • Non-physician practitioner
  • Respiratory infections
  • Triage

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