The observation unit: a new interface between inpatient and outpatient care

Am J Med. 2001 Mar;110(4):274-7. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9343(00)00710-5.


Purpose: Observation units for patients who present to emergency departments with chest pain have become common. We describe our 3-year experience with a multipurpose observation unit in which chest pain accounts for only a minority of patients' presenting clinical syndromes.

Subjects and methods: We analyzed the effects of a 12-bed observation unit on inpatient admissions for common clinical syndromes, as well as its overall effects on inpatient medical admissions during its first 3 years of operation (1996 to 1998) compared with the 3 years preceding its creation (1993 to 1995).

Results: Among 7,507 patients admitted to the observation unit in 1996 to 1998, 6,334 (85%) were discharged home within 23 hours. Total inpatient medical admissions fell by a similar number (n = 5,366) during the 3 years of operation of the observation unit when compared with the 3 preceding years (39,569 admissions in 1996 to1998 versus 44,935 in 1993 to 1995). Analysis of local area trends suggested that the use of the observation unit contributed to reduced hospital admissions, rather than vice versa.

Conclusion: Observation units can serve patients with diverse clinical syndromes and may reduce inpatient admissions. This novel "point of care" deserves further evaluation.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care
  • Chicago
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Hospital Units*
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Length of Stay
  • Observation*
  • Patient Admission
  • Patient Discharge
  • United States