Unexpected events during the intrahospital transport of critically ill patients

Acad Emerg Med. 2007 Jun;14(6):574-7. doi: 10.1197/j.aem.2007.02.034.


Objectives: To examine unexpected events (UEs) that occur during the intrahospital transport of critically ill emergency department patients.

Methods: This was a prospective observational study of consecutive intrahospital transports between March 2003 and June 2004. The escorting emergency physician completed the data collection document either during or immediately after the transport. This document detailed equipment-related UEs, patient instability and invasive line-related UEs, whether the UEs required intervention, and whether the UEs were potentially life threatening (serious UEs).

Results: Of 339 transports observed, 230 (67.9%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 62.6% to 72.7%) were associated with 604 UEs. Overall, there was a median of 1.0 UE per transport (range, 0-16). There were 277 (45.9%; 95% CI = 41.8% to 49.9%) UEs related to equipment, 158 (26.2%; 95% CI = 22.7% to 29.9%) related to patient instability, 156 (25.8%; 95% CI = 22.4% to 29.6%) related to equipment lines, and 13 (2.2%, 95% CI = 1.2% to 3.8%) miscellaneous UEs. The most common UEs were oxygen saturation probe failures, lead and line tangles, hypotension, and the wearing off of sedation and/or paralysis. Most UEs (478 [79.1%]; 95% CI = 75.6% to 82.3%) required an intervention. Emergency physicians had a significantly lower UE rate than residents. Thirty serious UEs occurred; 5.0% (95% CI = 3.4% to 7.1%) of UEs and 8.9% (95% CI = 6.2% to 12.5%) of transports were associated with a serious UE. The most common were severe hypotension, decreasing consciousness requiring intubation, and increased intracranial pressure.

Conclusions: Unexpected events during the intrahospital transport of critically ill patients from the emergency department are common and can be potentially life threatening. Transporting physician experience is associated with UE rate. Strict adherence to and review of existing transport guidelines is recommended.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Critical Illness*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Transfer*
  • Prospective Studies