Patient and Physician Experience with Interhospital Transfer: A Qualitative Study

J Patient Saf. 2021 Dec 1;17(8):e752-e757. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000501.


Objectives: Although existing data suggest marked variability in interhospital transfer (IHT), little is known about specific factors that may impact the quality and safety of this care transition. We aimed to explore transferred patients' and involved physicians' experience with IHT to better understand the components of the transfer continuum and identify potential targets for improvement.

Methods: We performed a qualitative study using individual interviews of adult patients recently transferred to cardiology, general medicine, and oncology services at a tertiary care academic medical center, as well as their transferring physician, accepting attending physician, and accepting/admitting resident physician. We conducted a thematic analysis, using an inductive approach and an a priori framework from pre-established domains.

Results: Participants included 10 hospitalized adults (6 cardiology, 2 general medicine, and 2 oncology), 9 accepting attending physicians, 12 accepting and/or admitting resident physicians, and 5 transferring physicians (N = 36). Emergent themes demonstrated that participants held a shared understanding of the reason for transfer (most commonly access to more specialized care), and relayed a general dissatisfaction regarding the timing and lack of advanced notification of transfer. We also found distinct differences in IHT experience by stakeholder group: physician participants relayed discontent with intrahospital chains of communication and interhospital information exchange, and patient participants focused more readily on the physical aspects of IHT.

Conclusions: This study offers insight into IHT from the perspective of those most affected by this process, thereby identifying potential targets in addressing the quality and safety of this transition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Patient Transfer*
  • Physicians*
  • Qualitative Research