Faculty of Health

Research uncovers reasons behind Tasmanian emergency department traffic

A large number of patients would rather be seen by their general practitioner than take non-urgent complaints to hospital emergency departments (EDs), a recent University of Tasmania study has shown.

What drives patients with non-urgent medical issues to already busy hospital emergency departments was the focus of the study led by the Faculty of Health’s Maria Unwin.

Ms Unwin, from the School of Health Sciences, said the findings showed the biggest influences on people’s attendance of EDs with non-urgent complaints were convenience and perceived need, with an unexpected finding being the high number of health provider referrals.

The study also showed the young (those under 25 years of age) had a disproportionately high attendance rate for non-urgent conditions and that musculoskeletal symptoms were the most common presenting complaint amongst non-urgent patients.

Cost, however, was not found not to be a significant factor in the decision to attend the ED.

Ms Unwin said the research, which she recently presented at the 2nd Global Conference Emergency and Trauma Nursing in Spain and was due to be published in the International Emergency Nursing Journal later this year, filled a knowledge gap in relation to Tasmanian EDs.

“Prior to the commencement of this project very little was known from the patients’ perspective regarding the reasons for seeking emergency management for non-urgent complaints and there was no published data giving consideration to the Tasmanian context,” she said.

“The information has since been provided (on request) to the Tasmanian Health Minister.”

Ms Unwin said further research would now follow focusing on patients who were referred to the ED, to identify trends in primary health care referrals of non-urgent patients and ultimately take some pressure off our ED departments.

“It is hoped this research will help to gain understanding from both general practitioners (GPs) and patients regarding service requirements, in order to determine a possible health service model aiming to provide the right person with the right service at the right time,” she said.