Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a life-threatening immune dysregulation syndrome characterized by uncontrolled immune cell activation. Timely diagnosis is important, since early treatment can improve survival rates. However, completing all assessments needed to reach ≥5 positive criteria out of the 8 HLH-2004 criteria can be time consuming and may delay timely initiation of treatment. Hence, we applied a data-driven approach to identify a minimal parameter set for early decision-making towards the initiation of HLH-specific treatment. We retrospectively evaluated 165 patients from five Dutch tertiary hospitals with suspected HLH. Sixteen pHLH (median age 0.5 years) and 70 sHLH patients (median age 8.7 years) were identified using the HLH-2004 criteria. Clustering analysis and multi-receiver operator characteristics were used to identify parameters distinctive of HLH. The presence of either increased ferritin, cytopenia in ≥2 lineages, or splenomegaly distinguished HLH from non-HLH cases with a negative predictive value of 100%. A minimal parameter set consisting of 2 major criteria (phagocytosis and splenomegaly) and 3 minor criteria (cytopenia, increased ferritin, and increased triglycerides/low fibrinogen) predicted HLH with 95% (88–99) sensitivity and 94% (86–98) specificity. This finding was replicated in an independent retrospective validation cohort of 109 US patients (n = 109). By dividing a subset of the HLH-2004 criteria into major and minor criteria, this strategy uses the evaluation of less than 5 criteria to quickly identify patients with HLH. When confirmed in a prospective setting, this approach could be of value for timely diagnosis and treatment of HLH.