Crowded, busy emergency rooms may find their patient loads alleviated by the addition of just one nurse practitioner to general hospital staff, according to a new study by the Loyola University Health System. The NP can curb unnecessary ER visits by serving as a first line of defense, providing preventative treatments, “improving the continuity in care, and troubleshooting problems for patients,” says a Loyola University Health System release.

Published in a recent issue of Surgery, the journal of the Society of University Surgeons, the Central Surgical Association, and the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, the research analyzed the results of adding an NP to a department with three surgeons. The study recounted an individual experience in one hospital, following nurse practitioner Mary Kay Larson, B.S., M.S.N., C.N.N., A.P.R.N.-B.C.

Researchers examined patient records from one year before and one year after Larson joined the hospital’s staff. Both sets of patients (415 before Larson, 411 after) were statistically similar, including length of stay and readmissions. From these groups of patients, researchers monitored which ones returned unnecessarily to the ER, i.e., those visits that did not lead to an inpatient admission.

Larson credits the decrease in ER visits to her communication with patients, saying she “routinely checked on their progress and responded to their concerns by ordering lab tests, calling in prescriptions, and arranging to care for them in the outpatient setting to maintain continuity in treatment.” She was also responsible for their discharge plans. Patient phone calls increased by 64% after Larson joined the hospital team, as did other outpatient services (visiting nurse, physical therapy, or occupational therapy). Researchers say this combination contributed to unnecessary ER visits dropping from 25% to 13%.

Though further research is necessary to corroborate these results, the addition of RNs to hospital staff may be the key to measurable improvements in patient care and operations.

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