Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Nursing Honours


School of Nursing

First Supervisor

Maxine Serrell

Second Supervisor

Dr Amanda Blackmore


The traditional role of emergency departments (ED) is to provide emergency and lifesaving treatment to accident victims (Catchlove, 1974). These departments provide a unique service to the Australian community, as medical treatment is available without medical referral or appointment. However, attendance patterns suggest that a high proportion of members of the public seek treatment for non-urgent conditions at these departments (Bain & Johnson, 1971; Starr, 1973). The purpose of this study is to update existing information about attendance patterns by describing the current use of one teaching hospital emergency department. A descriptive study design using a quantitative approach was used to describe attendance patterns and identify the reasons why patients choose emergency departments to meet their health care needs. Pender’s Health Promotion Model (1987) provided the framework and guidance for the study. One hundred ambulant adults were conveniently sampled following a nursing triage assessment. The data was collected over a one week period using a validated questionnaire. Descriptive statistics and cross--tabulation were used to analyse the data. Two open-ended questions were analysed by content analysis. The findings of the study indicate that attenders at the emergency department were predominantly young (under 29), male, and low income earners. The majority of attenders presented as ambulant cases with minor injuries or illnesses and did not require hospital admission. Participants chose the emergency department to meet their medical needs because of their perception of its usefulness to them. The study found that for most participants the decision about which medical care service was more appropriate to meet their needs, was dependent upon more than one factor. However, in most cases there was a dominant factor which motivated the participant to attend the emergency department. The study revealed that a substantial proportion of participants were lacking in general knowledge about the range of services provided by GP's during and after surgery hours. The researcher suggests that an increase in public education about the role, scope, and availability of GP’s may encourage the public to seek medical assistance from their GP. The implications for the study focus on education of members of the general public about the role and scope of the emergency department and alternative medical services. The implications for nursing is the introduction of a new role for nurses, that of the nurse practitioner in the emergency department. This nurse would have the appropriate skills and training to treat patients who attend the emergency department with non-urgent minor injuries.

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