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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Karen Giuliano

Second Advisor

Cynthia Jacelon

Third Advisor

Hari Balasubramanian

Subject Categories



Background: Emergency department (ED) crowding is an urgent threat to patient safety and negatively impacts healthcare staff and institutions. Patient flow researchers have employed a range of methods to address this crisis, including an increase in the use of operations research and operations management strategies. However, identified patient flow solutions are inadequate. Research describing the complexities of patient flow processes and investigating the work and contributions of ED nurses is needed.

Purposes: The purposes of this study were to explore how ED nurses perform patient flow management and to develop a constructivist grounded theory of patient flow management within the ED.

Methods: A conceptual foundation for patient flow management was first established using evolutionary concept analysis and expanded concept analysis approaches. This study then employed constructivist grounded theory and situational analysis methodologies to examine the work of ED nurses. Data was collected through 29 focus groups and interviews with 27 participants and 64 hours of participant observations across four EDs. Data analysis relied on coding, constant comparative analysis, and memo-writing to identify emergent themes and develop a substantive theory.

Findings: Concept analyses defined patient flow management as the application of ED experience, holistic perspectives, dynamic data, and complex considerations of multiple priorities by ED nurses to promote patient safety within their scope of responsibility. The study offers three main contributions: a theoretical model of the work of ED patient flow management, a theoretical framework to describe holistic considerations of factors that impact departmental capacity and nurse engagement in patient flow management, and a grounded theory of patient flow management capacity and engagement that describes how ED nurses adapt patient flow management strategies according to patient burden.

Conclusion: This study offers a new conceptual and theoretical foundation to understand the work of patient flow management. This novel perspective centralizes the work of ED nurses as active agents in patient flow processes and describes their strategies and contributions to meet patient care needs. Several practical considerations are offered to engage and support nurses in their roles as patient flow managers, improve patient flow processes, and further investigate ED nurse patient flow management.


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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
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Nursing Commons