Objective: To clarify case mix, mode of transport and reasons for interfacility transfer from rural emergency departments (EDs) and to make recommendations for improved emergency health care delivery in rural settings.
Methods: This was a multi-centre descriptive study, based in 5 rural Ontario EDs. Over a 1-year period, all ED patients who required transfer to another hospital were studied. Data collection forms were completed prospectively by the most responsible nurse involved in the transfer. Main measurements included patient age, gender, place of residence, circumstances and reason for transfer, primary diagnosis, mode of transport and receiving hospital.
Results: Of 53 796 patients who presented to the 5 participating EDs, 98.4% were managed locally and 836 (1.6%) were transferred to referral centres. Most patients (86%) were transferred because they required treatment beyond the scope of the local hospital. The need for orthopedic care, CT and pediatric care accounted for 23.6%, 14.1% and 8.7% of transfers respectively.
Conclusions: These data suggest that rural family physicians may benefit from increased orthopedic and pediatric training and support. The study also identified a need for increased specialist availability in our rural setting. The high number of transfers for CT scans suggests that some rural health regions should consider acquiring a "regional" CT scanner. The development of a regional hospital, with a CT scanner and specialist resources, especially a general surgery on-call system, would reduce the need for transfer outside the region.