Physical Therapists as Primary Practitioners in the Emergency Department: Six-Month Prospective Practice Analysis Academic Article uri icon


  • Increasing pressure on the emergency department (ED) throughout the world has meant the introduction of innovative ways of working. One such innovation is the advanced practice physical therapist (APP) acting as a primary contact practitioner. There has been little research into the role beyond identifying patient satisfaction with management, cost-effectiveness, and time efficiency. In order to give further support and assist in development of an APP service in the ED, an increased exploration of patient caseload demographics, resource utilization, and management outcomes is needed.The purpose of this study was to provide quantitative data regarding patient demographics, time efficiency, resource utilization, and management outcomes to examine the APP role in the ED.This was a prospective observational study of practice.The study was conducted in a single ED in Melbourne, Australia.Data collection was conducted over a 6-month period. Patient demographics and diagnoses, assessment times, hospital resource utilization, and discharge destinations were recorded.One thousand seventeen patients (45% female; median age=34 years, interquartile range=25-52) were managed by the APPs; 89% had conditions triaged as not serious or life threatening, and 97% had musculoskeletal pathologies, with the most common diagnosis being fracture or dislocation. Four-hour length-of-stay targets were met in 95% of the patients. Forty-six percent of the patients seen were managed independently, without any support from medical colleagues. The most frequent discharge destination was a referral back to the primary care physician or to hospital outpatient clinics. When comparing similar diagnostic groups, the APPs were significantly more time-efficient than ED physicians in their patient management.This study described in detail the caseload managed by the APP in the ED and identified the role as a valuable asset to an ED, managing a great deal of their caseload independently, safely, and time efficiently.

publication date

  • 2015

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