A systematic review of outcomes following emergency transfer to hospital for residents of aged care facilities

Age Ageing. 2014 Nov;43(6):759-66. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afu117. Epub 2014 Oct 14.


Background: residential aged care facility (RACF) resident numbers are increasing. Residents are frequently frail with substantial co-morbidity, functional and cognitive impairment with high susceptibility to acute illness. Despite living in facilities staffed by health professionals, a considerable proportion of residents are transferred to hospital for management of acute deteriorations in health. This model of emergency care may have unintended consequences for patients and the healthcare system. This review describes available evidence about the consequences of transfers from RACF to hospital.

Methods: a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed literature using four electronic databases. Inclusion criteria were participants lived in nursing homes, care homes or long-term care, aged at least 65 years, and studies reported outcomes of acute ED transfer or hospital admission. Findings were synthesized and key factors identified.

Results: residents of RACF frequently presented severely unwell with multi-system disease. In-hospital complications included pressure ulcers and delirium, in 19 and 38% of residents, respectively; and up to 80% experienced potentially invasive interventions. Despite specialist emergency care, mortality was high with up to 34% dying in hospital. Furthermore, there was extensive use of healthcare resources with large proportions of residents undergoing emergency ambulance transport (up to 95%), and inpatient admission (up to 81%).

Conclusions: acute emergency department (ED) transfer is a considerable burden for residents of RACF. From available evidence, it is not clear if benefits of in-hospital emergency care outweigh potential adverse complications of transfer. Future research is needed to better understand patient-centred outcomes of transfer and to explore alternative models of emergency healthcare.

Keywords: emergency; nursing homes; older people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Ambulances* / economics
  • Ambulances* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cause of Death
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital* / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital* / statistics & numerical data
  • Frail Elderly
  • Geriatrics* / economics
  • Health Resources / economics
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Homes for the Aged*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care* / economics
  • Patient Admission* / economics
  • Patient Transfer* / economics
  • Patient Transfer* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome