Delayed discharges from an adult intensive care unit

Aust Health Rev. 2004;28(1):87-96. doi: 10.1071/ah040087.


Objective: Intensive Care Unit (ICU) services are expensive, and therefore appropriate utilisation is imperative. Delayed discharges impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of ICU services. This study examines the prevalence and reasons for delayed discharge.

Method: Cross sectional study. We enrolled a prospective sample of all patients admitted to a 22-bed ICU over a 6-month period. Medical staff in ICU informed nursing shift coordinators when patients could be discharged. Nursing shift coordinators maintained a record of discharge times, delays and reasons for delay. Discharge was considered delayed if the patient was not relocated from the ICU within 8 hours of being considered eligible by ICU medical staff.

Results: Of 652 recorded discharges, 176 were delayed (27%). Unavailable ward beds (81%) were cited as the main reason for delay in discharge. Median delay time was 21.3 hours (range, 10 minutes to 26 days). These delays were predicted by greater patient acuity on ICU admission, patient deterioration while waiting for transfer to the ward, principal admitting diagnosis, discharge destination and weekend discharge.

Conclusion: Improvement in bed management and discharge processes (the only factors directly controllable by the hospital) is essential to reduce delays in discharge from ICU. Reducing discharge delays would free up beds for other admissions; may result in a cost saving for the hospital through more efficient resource utilisation; and, ultimately, would benefit patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Patient Discharge*
  • Prospective Studies