"Our Hands Are Tied Until Your Doctor Gets Here": Nursing Perspectives on Inter-hospital Transfers

J Gen Intern Med. 2022 May;37(7):1729-1736. doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-07276-5. Epub 2022 Jan 6.


Background: The transfer of patients between hospitals (inter-hospital transfer, or IHT) is a common occurrence for patients, but guidelines to ensure safe and effective IHTs are lacking. Poor IHTs result in higher rates of mortality, longer lengths of stay, and higher hospitalization costs compared to admissions from the emergency department. Nurses are often the first point of contact for IHT patients and can provide valuable insights on key challenges to IHT processes.

Objective: To characterize the experiences of inpatient floor-level bedside nurses caring for IHT patients and identify care coordination challenges and solutions.

Design/participants/approach: Qualitative study using semi-structured focus groups and interviews conducted from October 2019 to July 2020 with 21 inpatient floor-level nurses caring for adult medicine patients at an academic hospital. Nurses were recruited using a purposive convenience sampling approach. A combined inductive and deductive coding approach guided by thematic analysis was used for data analysis.

Key results: Results from this study are mapped to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Care Coordination Measurement Framework domains of communication, assessing needs and goals, and negotiating accountability. The following key themes characterize nurses' experiences with IHT related to these domains: (1) challenges with information exchange and team communication during IHT, (2) environmental and information preparation needed to anticipate transfers, and (3) determining responsibility and care plans after the IHT patient has arrived at the accepting facility.

Conclusions: Nurses described the absence of standardized processes to coordinate care before or at the time of patient arrival. Challenges to communication and coordination during IHTs negatively impacted patient care and nursing professional satisfaction. To streamline care for IHT patients and reduce nursing stress, future IHT interventions should include standardized handoff reports, timely identification and easy access to admitting clinicians, and timely clinician evaluation and orders.

Keywords: care transitions; inter-hospital transfer; interhospital transfer; nursing; qualitative.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Hospitalization
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Patient Transfer*
  • Physicians*