Rural Emergency Nurses’ Suggestions for Improving End-of-Life Care

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Abstract

Introduction:

Many patient visits to emergency departments result in the patient dying or being pronounced dead on arrival. The numbers of deaths in emergency departments are likely to increase as a significant portion of the U.S. population ages. Consequently, emergency nurses face many obstacles to providing quality end-of-life (EOL) care when death occurs. The purpose of this study was to identify suggestions that emergency nurses have to improve EOL care, specifically in rural emergency departments.

Methods:

A 57-item questionnaire was sent to 53 rural hospitals in 4 states in the Intermountain West, plus Alaska. One item asked nurses to identify the one aspect of EOL care they would change for dying patients in rural emergency departments. Each qualitative response was individually reviewed by a research team and then coded into a theme.

Results:

Four major themes and three minor themes were identified. The major themes were providing greater privacy during EOL care for patients and family members, increasing availability of support services, additional staffing, and improved staff and community education.

Discussion:

Providing adequate privacy for patients and family members was a major obstacle to providing EOL care in the emergency department, largely because of poor department design, especially in rural emergency departments where space is limited. Lack of support services and adequate staffing were also obstacles to providing quality EOL care in rural emergency departments. Consequently, rural nurses are commonly pulled away from EOL care to perform ancillary duties because additional support personnel are lacking. Providing EOL care in rural emergency departments is a challenging task given the limited staffing and resources, and thus it is imperative that nurses’ suggestions for improvement of EOL care be acknowledged. Because of the current lack of research in rural EOL care, additional research is needed.

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