Benefiting from hospitalist-directed transfers

A ‘unique opportunity’ for hospitalists


Emergency department overcrowding is common, and it can result in both increased costs and poor clinical outcomes.


“We sought to evaluate the impact and safety of hospitalist-directed transfers on patients boarding in the ER as a means to alleviate overcrowding,” said Yihan Chen, MD, MPH, of the University of California, Los Angeles. “High inpatient census has been shown to impair ER throughput by increasing the number of ER ‘boarders,’ which creates a suboptimal care environment for practicing hospitalists. For example, some studies have shown associations with delays in medical decision making when admitted patients remain and receive care in the emergency department.”

Dr. Chen was the lead author of an abstract describing a chart review on 1,016 admissions to the hospitalist service. About half remained at the reference hospital and half were transferred to a nearby affiliate hospital.

In analyzing the data, the researchers’ top takeaway was the many benefits for the transferred patients. “Hospitalist-directed transfer and direct admission of stable ER patients to an affiliate facility with greater bed availability is associated with shorter ER lengths of stay, fewer adverse events, and lower rates of readmission within 30 days of hospitalization,” Dr. Chen said. “Having a system in place to transfer patients to an affiliate hospital with lower census is a way to improve flow.”

Hospitalists have a unique opportunity to take on a triage role in the ED to safely and effectively decrease ED overcrowding and throughput, improve resource utilization at the hospital level, and allow for other hospitalists at their institution to optimize patient care on the inpatient ward rather than in the ED, Dr. Chen said.

“Health systems privileged to have more than one facility should consider an intra–health system transfer process lead by triage hospitalists to identify stable patients who can be directly admitted to the off-site, affiliate hospital,” she said. “By improving patient throughput, hospitalists would play a critical role in relieving institutional stressors, impacting cost and quality of care, and enhancing clinical outcomes.”


1. Chen Y et al. Hospitalist-Directed Transfers Improve Emergency Room Length of Stay. Hospital Medicine 2018, Abstract 12. Accessed April 3, 2019.

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