• acute abdominal pain;
  • acute surgical ward;
  • discharge planning;
  • emergency department;
  • emergency department observation unit;
  • emergency nursing;
  • general surgery patient;
  • patient experience;
  • short-stay unit;
  • surgical assessment unit

Aims and objectives

To investigate the experiences of patients with acute abdominal pain at discharge from an emergency department observation unit compared with discharge from a surgical assessment unit.


The increase in emergency department observation units has increased short-term admissions and changed the patient journey from admission and discharge from specialised wards staffed by specialist nurses to admission and discharge from units staffed by emergency nurses.


A comparative qualitative interview study.


The study included 20 patients: 10 from an emergency department observation unit and 10 from a surgical assessment unit, and took a phenomenological-hermeneutic approach. Patients were interviewed at discharge and three months later.


More patients from the emergency department observation unit experienced readiness for discharge and had plans for follow-up, compared with patients from the surgical assessment unit. In the surgical assessment unit, more patients were readmitted, had unanswered questions after three months and experienced a follow-up visit at the general practitioner as insufficient. More patients from the surgical assessment unit reported receiving useful self-care advice, compared with those from the emergency department observation unit.


The experience of emergency department observation unit patients on discharge and follow-up was that the health professionals were more supportive, compared with surgical assessment unit patients, who felt discharge occurred too early, but with more preparation for independent home self-care. These results are an important factor in the patient experience of discharge from hospital and may reflect differences in specialisation of the nurses.

Relevance to clinical practice

Units discharging patients with acute abdominal pain could be inspired by scheduled fast-track surgery programmes with structured information about admission, treatment and follow-up and easy access to relevant health professionals after discharge.