Maximizing use of the emergency department observation unit: a novel hybrid design

Ann Emerg Med. 2001 Mar;37(3):267-74. doi: 10.1067/mem.2001.111519.


Study objective: We sought to determine whether sharing an observation unit with scheduled procedure patients would maintain a more consistent unit census and patient/nurse ratio. A secondary objective was to determine the effect of this model on patient length of stay and discharge rates.

Methods: This retrospective, descriptive study was conducted in a high-volume suburban teaching hospital, using a "before-and-after" study design. A "pure" postprocedure unit became a "hybrid" observation postprocedure unit by displacing specific postprocedure patients to inpatient locations. Subsequently, the displaced patients were returned to the unit. On weekends, the unit operated as a pure observation unit. Hourly unit occupancy and census data were prospectively collected, and hourly patient/nurse ratios were calculated. Patient length of stay and discharge data were collected and compared in different settings.

Results: The 2 services showed a complementary census pattern that allowed the hybrid unit to maintain an average hourly patient/nurse ratio of 3.7 compared with the ratio of 2.5 for a pure observation unit. There was no difference in observation patient length of stay (14.8 hours versus 14.7 hours) or discharge rate (20.4% versus 18.1%) between weekdays and weekends. However, scheduled procedure patients experienced significantly shorter lengths of stay in the hybrid unit setting (4.3 hours) than in alternative inpatient locations (9.4 hours).

Conclusion: The hybrid model showed better hourly census and nurse resource use rates, with no adverse effect on observation patients. However, scheduled procedure patient length of stay was shorter in this setting.

MeSH terms

  • Bed Occupancy / economics
  • Cost Savings
  • Efficiency
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Observation*
  • Patient Care Team / economics
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration
  • Patient Discharge / economics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies