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Emergency department transfers and transfer relationships in United States hospitals

The objective was to describe transfers out of hospital-based emergency departments (EDs) in the United States and to identify different characteristics of sending and receiving hospitals, travel distance during transfer, disposition on arrival to the second hospital, and median number of transfer partners among sending hospitals. Emergency department records were linked at transferring hospitals to ED and inpatient records at receiving hospitals in nine U.S. states using the 2010 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) State Emergency Department Databases and State Inpatient Databases, the American Hospital Association Annual Survey, and the Trauma Information Exchange Program. Using the Clinical Classification Software (CCS) to categorize conditions, the 50 disease categories with the highest transfer rates were studied, and these were then placed into nine clinical groups. Records were included where both sending and receiving records were available; these data were tabulated to describe ED transfer patterns, hospital-to-hospital distances, final patient disposition, and number of transfer partners. A total of 97,021 ED transfer encounters were included in the analysis from the 50 highest transfer rate disease categories. Among these, transfer rates ranged from 1% to 13%. Circulatory conditions made up about half of all transfers. Receiving hospitals were more likely to be nonprofit, teaching, trauma, and urban and have more beds with greater specialty coverage and more advanced diagnostic and therapeutic resources. The median transfer distance was 23 miles, with 25% traveling more than 40 to 50 miles. About 8% of transferred encounters were discharged from the second ED, but that varied from 0.6% to 53% across the 50 conditions. Sending hospitals had a median of seven transfer partners across all conditions and between one and four per clinical group. Among high-transfer conditions in U.S. EDs, patients are often transferred great distances, more commonly to large teaching hospitals with greater resources. The large number of transfer partners indicates a possible lack of stable transfer relationships between U.S. hospitals.

Authors: Kindermann DR; Mutter RL; Houchens RL; Barrett ML; Pines JM

Acad Emerg Med. 2015 Feb;22(2):157-65. Epub 2015-01-29.

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