Tag Archives: length of stay

Hard Time Discharging Your Trauma Patient?

Trauma services tend to have fairly rapid patient turnover. Many of the patients that are seen have injuries that are easily managed, leading to discharge within one to two days. On the flip side, some have such severe injuries that they may be in the hospital for weeks or even months. But regardless of injury, there are always a few who we just can’t seem to discharge at all. Why does this happen?

The trauma program at the Massachusetts General Hospital looked at 5 years worth of admission data on adult patients. They looked at the usual hospital demographics, billing information, hospital financial information, and discharge disposition. The ultimate goal was to identify patients who had an excessively prolonged hospitalization (defined as 2 standard deviations above the average length of stay for the associated Diagnosis Related Group) and why.

Here are the factoids:

  • 155 of 3237 admitted patients (5%) had an extended stay. The total number of admits seems weird, since this would average out to only 650 admissions per year to this busy hospital.
  • The usual injury severity demographics were similar.
  • Extended stay patients tended to be older, sustained blunt trauma, were Medicare or no-pay patients, and were discharged to facilities other than home.
  • Length of stay was 3 times longer than the usual patients
  • Hospital cost was 3 times higher, and the hospital lost a lot of money on them.
  • In-hospital mortality was lower for these patients (?!).
  • The biggest factors delaying discharge were transfer to a rehab or other post-acute care facility, and self-pay or Medicare pay status.

Bottom line: Extended stay in the hospital when not medically indicated is a bad thing, and it’s a system problem. The chance of complications is always present, including deep venous thrombosis, exposure to resistant organisms, UTI, pneumonia, and medication error, just to name a few. And it’s generally bad for the hospital’s financial health, as well. If you are experiencing this at your center, carefully analyze the reasons why it typically occurs. Then work proactively to address them.

  • Identify potential problem discharge patients on their first day in the hospital
  • Develop special arrangements with post-discharge facilities.
  • Hire skilled (and aggressive) social workers
  • Don’t give up!

Related post:

Reference: Excessively long hospital stays after trauma are not related to the severity of illness. JAMA Surg 148(10):956-961, 2013.

Admission To Nonsurgical Service = Longer LOS?

Previous studies have shown that higher hospital costs are associated with longer length of stay (LOS). This makes sense, because the longer a patient stays in the hospital, the more that is “done” for them, and more daily charges are incurred. Obvious savings can occur if we look globally at services, medications, etc while the patient is in the hospital.

But does the admission service make a difference in LOS or cost? It shouldn’t if care is fairly uniform. A group of orthopedic surgeons at Vanderbilt in Nashville looked at a large group of isolated hip fracture patients (n=614) to see if LOS (used as a surrogate for cost) was significantly different. They also tried to control for a host of factors that could affect time in the hospital between the two groups.

Here are the factoids:

  • About half of the patients were admitted to the orthopedics service, and half to medicine
  • Median length of stay was way different! 4.5 days on Ortho vs 7 days on Medicine
  • Readmission rates were also significantly higher on Medicine, 30% vs 23%
  • After controlling for factors such as medical comorbidities, age, smoking and alcohol, ASA score, obesity, and others, a regression model showed that patients were still likely to stay about 50% longer if admitted to a medicine service.

Bottom line: Obviously, this is the experience of a single institution. But the difference in length of stay, and hence costs, was striking. As the US moves toward a bundled payment system, this will become a major problem. The initial LOS is more costly on the medicine service, and readmission for the same problem will not be reimbursed. Why the difference? Coordination of care between two services? Lack of familiarity with surgical nuances? This study did not look at that.

But it does point out the need to more closely integrate the care of the elderly in particular, and patients with a broad range of needs in general. An integrated team with orthopedic surgeons and skilled geriatricians is in order. And a set of protocols for standard preop evaluation and postop management is mandatory.

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Reference: 

Does Admission to Medicine or Orthopaedics Impact a Geriatric Hip Patient’s Hospital Length of Stay? J Orthopedic Surg epub Sep 14, 2015.