Background: We aimed to assess the care and outcome of patients with minor injuries who were managed by a nurse practitioner or a junior doctor in our accident and emergency department.
Methods: 1453 eligible patients, over age 16 years, who presented at our department with minor injuries were randomly assigned care by a nurse practitioner (n=704) or by a junior doctor (n=749). Each patient was first assessed by the nurse practitioner or junior doctor who did a clinical assessment; the assessments were transcribed afterwards to maintain masked conditions. Patients were then assessed by an experienced accident and emergency physician (research registrar) who completed a research assessment, but took no part in the clinical management of the patient. A standard form was used to compare the clinical assessment of the nurse practitioner or junior doctor with the assessment of the research registrar. The primary outcome measure was the adequacy of care (history taking, examination of patient, interpretation of radiographs, treatment decision, advice, and follow-up).
Findings: Compared with the rigorous standard of the experienced accident and emergency research registrar, nurse practitioners and junior doctors made clinically important errors in 65 (9.2%) of 704 patients and in 80 (10.7%) of 749 patients, respectively. This difference was not significant. The nurse practitioners were better than junior doctors at recording medical history and fewer patients seen by a nurse practitioner had to seek unplanned follow-up advice about their injury. There were no significant differences between nurse practitioners and junior doctors in the accuracy of examination, adequacy of treatment, planned follow-up, or requests for radiography. Interpretation of radiographs was similar in the two groups.
Interpretation: Properly trained accident and emergency nurse practitioners, who work within agreed guidelines can provide care for patients with minor injuries that is equal or in some ways better than that provided by junior doctors.