What influences decisions to transfer older care-home residents to the emergency department? A synthesis of qualitative reviews

Age Ageing. 2022 Nov 2;51(11):afac257. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afac257.


Background: care home residents aged over 65 have disproportionate rates of emergency department (ED) attendance and hospitalisation. Around 40% attendances may be avoidable, and hospitalisation is associated with harms. We synthesised the evidence available in qualitative systematic reviews of different stakeholders' experiences of decisions to transfer residents to the ED.

Methods: six electronic databases, references and citations of included reviews and relevant policy documents were searched. Reviews of qualitative studies exploring factors that influenced care home staff, medical practitioners, residents' family or residents' experiences and factors influencing decisions to transfer residents to the ED were included. Thematic analysis was used to synthesise findings.

Results: six previous reviews were included, which synthesised the findings of 34 primary studies encompassing 152 care home residents, 283 resident family members or carers and 447 care home staff. Of the primary studies, 19 were conducted in the North America, seven in Australia, five were conducted in Scandinavia, two in the United Kingdom and one in Holland. Three themes were identified: (i) power dynamics between residents, family members, care home staff and health care professionals (external to the care home) influence decisions; (ii) admission can be necessary; however, (iii) some decisions may be driven by factors other than clinical need.

Conclusion: transfer decisions are complex and are determined not just by changes in health status interventions aimed at reducing avoidable transfers need to address the key role family members have in transfer decisions, the medical legal fears of care home staff and barriers to accessing community services.

Keywords: care homes; older people; qualitative research; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Family
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Nursing Homes*
  • Patient Transfer*