Objective To evaluate the impact of emergency care practitioners (ECPs) on the patient care pathway for children presenting with minor conditions in unscheduled care settings.
Design A pragmatic quasi-experimental multi-site community intervention trial comparing ECPs with usual care providers.
Setting Three pairs of emergency and urgent care services in the UK: minor injury unit (MIU), urgent care centre (UCC) and general practitioner out of hours.
Patients Paediatric acute episodes (n=415 intervention and n=748 control) in participating services presenting with minor conditions.
Main outcome measures Percentage of patients discharged following care episode and percentage of patients referred to hospital and primary care services.
Interventions ECPs operational in emergency and unscheduled care settings.
Results ECPs discharged significantly fewer patients than usual care providers (percentage difference 7.3%, 95% CI 13.6% to 0.9%). ECPs discharged fewer patients within all three pairs of services (out of hours percentage difference 6.33%, 95% CI 15.17% to 2.51%; UCC percentage difference 8.73%, 95% CI 19.22% to 1.76%; MIU percentage difference 6.80%, 95% CI 24.36% to 10.75%). ECPs also referred more patients to hospital (percentage difference 4.6%, 95% CI –2.9% to 12.0%) and primary care providers (percentage difference 3.0%, 95% CI 3.7% to 9.7%).
Conclusions ECPs are not as effective as usual health providers in discharging children after assessment of urgent healthcare problems. This has implications for the workload of other paediatric providers such as the emergency department. ECPs may be better targeted to settings and patients groups in which there is more evidence of their effectiveness in patient care pathways.
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Funding The study was funded by the United Kingdom National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) programme on Service Delivery and Organisation (SDO) (ref: SDO 2005/98). The study funders approved the final protocol and design of the study. However, the views expressed here are those of the authors alone.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Scottish MREC (06/MRE00/20).
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.