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Caring for older patients at an emergency department – emergency nurses’ reasoning


  • Annica Larsson Kihlgren MSc, RN,

  • Margaretha Nilsson PhD, RNT,

  • Venke Sørlie PhD, RNT

Annica Larsson Kihlgren
Centre for Nursing Science
Örebro University Hospital
Box 1324
S-701 13 Örebro
Telephone: +46 19 602 58 43


Aim.  The aim of the study was to use the experiences of emergency nurses to illuminate what constitutes good nursing care for patients 75 years or older transferred to emergency departments.

Background.  Emergency departments have a medical technical character and the number of visits there increases dramatically as people age. Older patients require increased healthcare services in terms of nursing care, interventions and hospitalizations due to an increased complexity of their problems. For these reasons it is important to study what good nursing care of the older patients consists of at an emergency department from the emergency nurses’ point of view.

Method.  Ten emergency nurses from a university hospital emergency department in Sweden were interviewed. A thematic content analysis was performed.

Results.  The study showed that it was necessary to be knowledgeable, to be understanding of the older patients’ situation and to take responsibility for them in order to be able to provide good nursing care. The emergency nurses shifted focus from describing the central aspect of good nursing care to describing what hinders the provision of it. Their experience was that prioritizing medical procedures, everyday tasks and routines threatens good nursing care of older patients in emergency departments. The emergency nurses held that the older patient is often sent to an emergency department where the level of care is not appropriate to their needs.

Conclusions.  The result can be seen as a challenge for the organization and the nurses in the future; to prioritize differently, thereby maintaining a balance between good nursing and medical/technical tasks when treating older patients.

Relevance to clinical practice.  The present day healthcare system is not organized to appropriately meet the needs of the older patients. Nurses themselves hold they can better serve the older patient. By sharing their experiences, both can be accomplished.