Leadership Section| Volume 49, ISSUE 1, P15-21, January 2023

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Closing the Gap: The Role of Discharge Nurses in an Emergency Department



      Patients discharged from the emergency department may require a follow-up appointment with an outpatient specialty clinic. Referral processes vary by clinic, some requiring faxed referrals, some providing appointments immediately, and others contacting the patients directly. The frequency with which patients are successfully connected with outpatient follow-up services is largely unknown.


      The ED discharge nurse role was developed to facilitate the navigation of patient follow-up and confirm that patients successfully connect with specialty outpatient clinics. Eight emergency nurses were recruited into this position to study the problem using a quality improvement approach. The ED discharge nurses reviewed referrals, contacted clinics and patients discharged from the emergency department, and intervened when barriers to transition occurred.


      The ED discharge nurses were able to determine specific causes and themes of missed appointments experienced by patients. Systemic problems identified include lost faxes, illegible contact information, incomplete referrals, and referral refusals by the clinics without patient notification. Considering the variability of clinic processes outside the emergency department’s control, the ED discharge nurse role became crucial in minimizing the risk of lost/unsuccessful follow-up for patients discharged from the emergency department.


      Implementing the ED discharge nurse role created a contact for outpatient clinic referrals, patient inquiry, and a process to track errors and data to better understand the frequency of missed follow-up. In this quality improvement initiative, the role of the ED discharge nurse addressed the risk of patients falling through the cracks of a complex system.

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      Monaliza Tacbas is Registered Nurse, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, Toronto Metropolitan University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


      Barb McGovern is Contract Lecturer, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, Toronto Metropolitan University; and is Clinical Nurse Specialist, Mississauga Hospital, Credit Valley Hospital, Trillium Health Partners, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. ORCID identifier:


      Jackie Rodricks is Clinical Manager, Emergency Department, Trillium Health Partners-Credit Valley Site, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.