Objectives: To investigate the relationship between access block in the emergency department (ED) (defined as total time from arrival to transfer from the ED over eight hours) and inpatient length of stay (LOS).
Design and setting: Retrospective cohort study of all admissions through the ED to a tertiary hospital in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, during 1999.
Main outcome measures: Total time in the ED and LOS, calculated in days from ED departure to hospital discharge (non-overnight admissions were assigned LOS of one day, and all LOS were truncated at 10 days).
Results: 11 906 admissions were included, and 919 experienced access block (7.7%). Mean LOS was 4.9 days in those who experienced access block (95% CI, 4.7-5.1), compared with 4.1 days in the no-block group (95% CI, 4.0-4.2; P < 0.0001). Subgroup analysis showed that this "access block effect" occurred across different severities of illness and diagnoses. A strong relationship was found between longer LOS and arrival of access-block patients on the inpatient ward outside office hours (0800-1600 weekdays).
Conclusions: This is the first study to show an association between access block and a measure of outcome outside the ED. If the effect of access block on LOS is reproduced in other settings, there are major implications for hospital management.