The objective of this scoping review was to identify published and unpublished reports that described volunteer programs in the emergency department (ED) and determine how these programs impacted patient experiences or outcomes. Electronic searches of Medline, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and CINAHL were conducted and reference lists were hand-searched. A grey literature search was also conducted. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts, reviewed full text articles, and extracted data. The search strategy yielded 4,589 potentially relevant citations; 87 reports were included in the review. Volunteer activities were categorized as non-clinical tasks (e.g., provision of meals/snacks, comfort items and mobility assistance), navigation, emotional support/communication, and administrative duties. 52 (59.8%) programs had general volunteers in the ED and 35 (40.2%) had volunteers targeting a specific patient population, including pediatrics, geriatrics, patients with mental health and addiction issues and other vulnerable populations. 18 (20.6%) programs included an evaluative component describing how ED volunteers affected patient experiences and outcomes. Patient satisfaction, follow-up and referral rates, ED hospital costs and length of stay, subsequent ED visits, medical complications, and malnutrition in the hospital were all reported to be positively affected by volunteers in the ED. These findings demonstrate the important role volunteers play in enhancing patient and caregiver experience in the ED. Future volunteer engagement programs should be formally described and evaluated to share their success and experience with others interested in implementing similar programs in the ED.

Experience Framework

This article is associated with the Infrastructure & Governance lens of The Beryl Institute Experience Framework. (http://bit.ly/ExperienceFramework)

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