Factors associated with Interhospital transfers of emergency general surgery patients from emergency departments

Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Feb:40:83-88. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2020.12.012. Epub 2020 Dec 13.


Background: Emergency general surgery (EGS) conditions account for over 3 million or 7.1% of hospitalizations per year in the US. Patients are increasingly transferred from community emergency departments (EDs) to larger centers for care, and a growing demand for treating EGS conditions mandates a better understanding of how ED clinicians transfer patients. We identify patient, clinical, and organizational characteristics associated with interhospital transfers of EGS patients originating from EDs in the United States.

Method: We analyze data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) for the years 2010-2014. Patient-level sociodemographic characteristics, clinical factors, and hospital-level factors were examined as predictors of transfer from the ED to another acute care hospital. Multivariable logistic regression analysis includes patient and hospital characteristics as predictors of transfer from an ED to another acute care hospital.

Results: Of 47,442,892 ED encounters (weighted) between 2008 and 2014, 1.9% resulted in a transfer. Multivariable analysis indicates that men (Odds ratio (OR) 1.18 95% Confidence Interval (95% CI) 1.16-1.21) and older patients (OR 1.02 (95% CI 1.02-1.02)) were more likely to be transferred. Relative to patients with private health insurance, patients covered by Medicare (OR 1.09 (95% CI 1.03-1.15) or other insurance (OR 1.34 (95% CI 1.07-1.66)) had a higher odds of transfer. Odds of transfer increased with a greater number of comorbid conditions compared to patients with an EGS diagnosis alone. EGS diagnoses predicting transfer included resuscitation (OR 36.72 (95% CI 30.48-44.22)), cardiothoracic conditions (OR 8.47 (95% CI 7.44-9.63)), intestinal obstruction (OR 4.49 (95% CI 4.00-5.04)), and conditions of the upper gastrointestinal tract (OR 2.82 (95% CI 2.53-3.15)). Relative to Level I or II trauma centers, hospitals with a trauma designation III or IV had a 1.81 greater odds of transfer. Transfers were most likely to originate at rural hospitals (OR 1.69 (95% CI 1.43-2.00)) relative to urban non-teaching hospitals.

Conclusion: Medically complex and older patients who present at small, rural hospitals are more likely to be transferred. Future research on the unique needs of rural hospitals and timely transfer of EGS patients who require specialty surgical care have the potential to significantly improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Keywords: Emergency department; Emergency general surgery; Handoffs; Interhospital transfer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Transfer / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States