Triage is the process of prioritising patients based on the severity of their condition. This allows as many patients as possible to be treated as quickly as possible, depending on the seriousness of their injuries. It is particularly important when resources are limited.
The term comes from the verb trier, meaning to select. It was developed by Dominique Larrey, chief surgeon of the French Army during the Napoleonic Wars. He realised that there was no purpose in treating those who were going to die. Priority was given to those who had a chance of survival with medical treatment. Those whose injuries were not that serious or life threatening could be left to wait.
This system of managing casualties has been used ever since in other wars, as the huge number and concentration of casualties, particularly in the First World War, required strict management. Triage is also used by the accident and emergency services in hospitals to prioritise the order in which patients are treated.
J L Burstein, D E Hogan, Disaster Medicine (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007)
M Crumplin, Men of Steel: Surgery in the Napoleonic Wars (Shrewsbury: Quiller Press, 2007)