Background The increasing cost of healthcare in Australia demands changes in the way healthcare is delivered. Nurse practitioners have been introduced into specialty areas including emergency departments. Specific interventions are known to include the treatment and management of minor injuries, but little has been reported on their work.
Objectives Examine the best available evidence to determine the clinical effectiveness of emergency department nurse practitioners in the assessment, treatment and management of minor injuries in adults.
Inclusion criteria For inclusion studies had to include adult patients treated for minor injuries by nurse practitioners in emergency departments. All study designs were included.
Search strategy English language articles from 1986 onwards were sought using MEDLINE, CINAHL, Embase and Science Citation Index.
Methodological quality Two independent reviewers critically appraised the quality of the studies and extracted data using standardised tools.
Data collection Two independent reviewers assessed the eligibility of each study for inclusion into the review and the study design used. Where any disagreement occurred, consensus was reached by discussion with an independent researcher.
Data synthesis Studies were assessed for homogeneity by considering populations, interventions and outcomes. Where heterogeneity was present, synthesis was undertaken in a narrative format; otherwise a meta-analysis was conducted. For each outcome measure, results were tabulated by intervention type and discussed in a narrative summary. Results from randomised controlled trials were pooled in meta-analyses where appropriate.
Results Nine studies from a total of 55 participants met the inclusion criteria. Two were randomised controlled trials. Metasynthesis of research findings generated five synthesised findings derived from 16 study findings aggregated into seven categories. Evidence comparing the clinical effectiveness of nurse practitioners to mainstream management of minor injuries was fair to poor methodological quality. When comparable data were pooled, there were no significant differences (P < 0.05) between nurse practitioners and junior doctors.
Conclusions The results emphasise the need for more high-quality research using appropriate outcome measures in the area of clinical effectiveness of nurse practitioners, particularly interventions that improve outcomes for presentations to emergency departments and address issues of waiting and congestion.