What happens to patients who leave hospital against medical advice?

Stephen W Hwang, Jianli Li, Rajesh Gupta, Vince Chien, Rochelle E Martin
Canadian Medical Association Journal: CMAJ 2003 February 18, 168 (4): 417-20

BACKGROUND: Patients who leave hospital against medical advice (AMA) may be at risk of adverse health outcomes and readmission. In this study we examined rates of readmission and predictors of readmission among patients leaving hospital AMA.

METHODS: We prospectively studied 97 consecutive patients who left the general medicine service of an urban teaching hospital AMA. Each patient was matched according to age, sex and primary diagnosis with a control patient who was discharged routinely. Readmission rates were examined using Kaplan-Meier analysis. Regression models were used to test the hypothesis that readmissions among patients discharged AMA followed a biphasic curve.

RESULTS: Patients who left AMA were much more likely than the control patients to be readmitted within 15 days (21% v. 3%, p < 0.001). Readmissions occurred at an accelerated pace during the first 15 days, followed by a 75-day period during which readmissions occurred at a rate comparable to that among the control patients. Among the patients who left AMA, being male and having a history of alcohol abuse were significant predictors of readmission within 15 days; however, these characteristics were common among the patients who left AMA. In the Cox proportional hazard models, leaving AMA was the only significant predictor of readmission (adjusted hazard ratio 2.5, 95% confidence interval 1.4-4.4).

INTERPRETATION: The significantly increased risk of readmission among general medicine patients who leave hospital AMA is concentrated in the first 2 weeks after discharge. However, it is difficult to identify which patients will likely be readmitted.

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