Introduction: Pneumonia is the leading cause of mortality, morbidity, and transfers to acute care facilities among residents of nursing homes. With the expected growth of the nursing home population over the next 30 years, the annual incidence of nursing home-acquired pneumonia (NHAP) is expected to reach 1.9 million cases. Yet there is growing evidence to suggest that the transfer of nursing home residents to hospitals with NHAP results in little to no improvement in overall mortality or morbidity when compared with residents treated in the nursing home. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that nursing home residents admitted to hospitals may be at greater risk for functional decline, delirium, and pressure ulcer formation following hospitalization. The author therefore performed a comprehensive review of the literature to consider the salient issues confronting a clinician faced with the question of whether to transfer a nursing home resident diagnosed with pneumonia to an acute care facility.
Methodology: A structured literature search was performed relating to the diagnosis, treatment, and triage of residents with nursing home pneumonia. Relevant key words used to conduct this search included: pneumonia, long-term care facility, nursing home, nursing home-acquired pneumonia, triage, treatment, and hospitalization. References in English dated from 1966 to the present day were considered.
Results: One prospective observational study and 2 retrospective, case control studies have directly compared the 30-day mortality rates of residents with NHAP who are hospitalized versus those who are treated in the nursing home. A second, prospective, observational study evaluated the mortality rate in residents with any form of infection who were transferred to acute care hospitals. These studies all suggest that mortality rates are similar or reduced when residents are treated in the nursing home. Studies also suggest that considerable cost savings can be incurred when residents are treated in the nursing home. Additional literature reviews were conducted to evaluate important factors that need to be considered before making triage decisions on nursing home residents diagnosed with pneumonia. These factors include the ease of making the diagnosis of NHAP, the availability and use of antibiotics, relevant cost issues, and barriers to providing adequate care in the nursing home environment.
Conclusion: There is growing evidence to suggest that hospitalization for residents with NHAP is not required and may result in increased cost, morbidity, and mortality. To date, studies show that residents may benefit from hospitalization if their respiratory rate is over 40. Otherwise, if appropriate treatment can be initiated expeditiously in the nursing home, resident mortality and morbidity may decrease. Numerous barriers to treating acutely ill residents in the nursing home exist, including a difficulty in obtaining antibiotics quickly, inadequate staffing, and poor documentation of a resident's wishes for hospitalization. More studies need to be conducted to further identify these barriers to nursing home care.