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What is a level 0 patient?

A level 0 patient refers to a patient classification system used in emergency departments and hospitals. This system categorizes patients into different acuity levels based on how quickly they need to be seen by a healthcare provider. Level 0 is the least urgent designation in this scale.

What does level 0 mean?

Level 0 means the patient’s condition is considered non-urgent. These patients have no life threatening conditions or injuries. Their healthcare needs are not immediate and they can safely wait for a longer time to be seen by a provider. Some examples of level 0 conditions are:

  • Routine follow up visits
  • Prescription refills
  • Pap smears
  • Blood pressure checks
  • Removal of stitches
  • Dressing changes

Level 0 patients may wait for hours in the emergency department or clinic waiting room before being seen. They are treated after all higher acuity patients have been cared for. The maximum recommended wait time for level 0 patients is 120 minutes.

What are the other acuity levels?

There are 5 main levels used to classify patient acuity in emergency medicine. From highest to lowest urgency, they are:

Level 1

Level 1 patients have life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical care. Examples include cardiac arrest, severe respiratory distress, major trauma, uncontrolled bleeding, and shock. These patients are seen immediately upon arrival.

Level 2

Level 2 patients have potentially life-threatening conditions that require rapid assessment and treatment within 10 minutes of arrival. Examples include chest pain, difficulty breathing, head injuries with moderate symptoms, and severe abdominal pain.

Level 3

Level 3 denotes urgent conditions that require assessment and treatment within 30 minutes of arrival. Examples include fractures, moderate asthma attacks, uncomplicated abdominal pain, and symptoms suggest a potential heart attack or stroke.

Level 4

Level 4 patients have conditions that should be assessed and treated within 1 hour of arrival. Examples include sprained ankles, simple fractures, mild asthma attacks, and urinary tract infections.

Level 5

Level 5 is considered the lowest acuity level. These non-urgent conditions require assessment within 2 hours. Examples are sore throats, rashes, chronic back pain, and medicinal refills.

Acuity Level Maximum Wait Time Example Conditions
Level 1 Immediate Cardiac arrest, major trauma
Level 2 10 minutes Chest pain, difficulty breathing
Level 3 30 minutes Fractures, potential heart attack
Level 4 1 hour Sprained ankle, UTI
Level 5 2 hours Sore throat, back pain

Why is patient acuity classification important?

Classifying patients by acuity level has several benefits in the emergency department and hospital setting:

  • It allows patients with the most critical needs to be prioritized and treated first.
  • It improves patient flow through the ED by ensuring life-threatening cases are handled immediately.
  • It decreases overall patient wait times since higher acuity patients skip ahead of lower acuity ones.
  • It enhances resource allocation by reserving equipment, staff, and rooms for the sickest patients.
  • It provides a standardized communication system for providers to quickly convey patient needs.
  • It improves quality of care and patient outcomes by matching urgency with the right resources.

Using an established 5-level triage scale helps ensure EDs and hospitals direct attention where it is needed most. Level 0 patients have non-emergent conditions that allow them to safely wait longer periods to be seen.

How are patients assigned an acuity level?

Acuity level assignment starts with the triage process. Here’s how it works:

  1. Patients are quickly assessed by a triage nurse within minutes of arriving.
  2. Vital signs like pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure are checked.
  3. The main symptom or reason for visiting is identified.
  4. Any life threats or concerning features are noted.
  5. The nurse then assigns a triage level from 1 (highest acuity) to 5 (lowest) based on symptoms.
  6. Level 0 is reserved for scheduled visits that don’t require triage.

This rapid head-to-toe evaluation allows patients to be directed to the appropriate care based on how quickly they need to be seen. Those with the most urgent needs are rushed back immediately while more stable patients may wait.

What are the limitations of the 1-5 acuity scale?

While very useful, the standard 5-level triage scale does have some limitations:

  • It relies on the subjective assessment of an individual nurse.
  • Mental health, communication barriers, and cultural factors may influence assignment.
  • Some patients don’t fit neatly into one specific acuity level.
  • Overcrowded EDs make adhering to recommended timeframes difficult.
  • Provider availability affects how quickly patients are seen after triage.

To compensate, many EDs have additional protocols in place to re-evaluate waiting patients and escalate care for those who deteriorate. Updated vital signs and repeat assessments ensure acuity level matches ongoing needs.


Level 0 represents the lowest level of patient acuity in the emergency severity index used in hospitals and emergency departments. These non-urgent patients have conditions that are not life-threatening and allow them to safely wait extended periods to be seen. Appropriately assigning and acting upon acuity levels is crucial for providing timely emergency care and optimizing patient flow and resources.