Research Paper| Volume 22, ISSUE 2, P97-102, June 2019

The management of patients with acute abdominal pain in the emergency department: A qualitative study of nurse perceptions

  • Frank Donnelly
    Corresponding author.
    Adelaide Nursing School, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Level 4, Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, Cnr North Terrace & George Street, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia
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  • Rebecca Feo
    College of Nursing & Health Sciences, Flinders University,Sturt Road, Bedford Park, South Australia 5042, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia
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  • Eva Jangland
    Department of Surgical Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

    Department of Surgery, Uppsala University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden
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  • Åsa Muntlin Athlin
    Adelaide Nursing School, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Level 4, Adelaide Health & Medical Sciences Building, Cnr North Terrace & George Street, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia

    Department of Emergency Care and Internal Medicine, Entrance 40, Level 3 (contact address: 5th floor), Uppsala University Hospital, 751 85 Uppsala, Sweden

    Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University, Sweden
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      Acute abdominal pain is a common reason for presentation to the emergency department. Understanding the role of nurses involved in management of acute abdominal pain is important for improving patient care and outcomes. The aim of this study was to understand the perceptions of emergency nurses in the management of acute abdominal pain.


      Using a qualitative design, a purposeful sample (n = 9) of experienced registered nurses was recruited from the emergency department of a large tertiary public hospital in South Australia. Semi-structured interviews, informed by literature describing the management of acute abdominal pain, were used to identify the perceptions of emergency nurses when caring for patients with acute abdominal pain.


      Thematic analysis of interviews identified four themes: Centrality of Diagnosis; Busyness and Patient Management; Systems Issues; and Communication Challenges. Of the four themes, the Centrality of Diagnosis was especially important to the nurses’ sense of contribution to patient care. Care was also affected by the busyness of the environment, the systems and processes in place to manage patients and communication in the emergency department.


      The management of patients with acute abdominal pain is influenced by how nurses participate in the diagnostic process. Nurses identified their role in this process and described how this role impacted their delivery of fundamental care. Further studies of the nursing contribution to diagnosis, communication, and the systems that affect care delivery in the emergency department are required.


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