Association of emergency department length of stay with safety-net status

Christopher Fee, Helen Burstin, Judith H Maselli, Renee Y Hsia
JAMA 2012 February 1, 307 (5): 476-82

CONTEXT: Performance measures, particularly pay for performance, may have unintended consequences for safety-net institutions caring for disproportionate shares of Medicaid or uninsured patients.

OBJECTIVE: To describe emergency department (ED) compliance with proposed length-of-stay measures for admissions (8 hours or 480 minutes) and discharges, transfers, and observations (4 hours or 240 minutes) by safety-net status.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: The 2008 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) ED data were stratified by safety-net status (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition) and disposition (admission, discharge, observation, transfer). The 2008 NHAMCS is a national probability sample of 396 hospitals (90.2% unweighted response rate) and 34 134 patient records. Visits were excluded for patients younger than 18 years, missing length-of-stay data or dispositions of missing, other, left against medical advice, or dead on arrival. Median and 90th percentile ED lengths of stay were calculated for each disposition and admission/discharge subcategories (critical care, psychiatric, routine) stratified by safety-net status. Multivariable analyses determined associations with length-of-stay measure compliance.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Emergency Department length-of-stay measure compliance by disposition and safety-net status.

RESULTS: Of the 72.1% ED visits (N = 24 719) included in the analysis, 42.3% were to safety-net EDs and 57.7% were to non-safety-net EDs. The median length of stay for safety-net was 269 minutes (interquartile range [IQR], 178-397 minutes) for admission vs 281 minutes (IQR, 178-401 minutes) for non-safety-net EDs; 156 minutes (IQR, 95-239 minutes) for discharge vs 148 minutes (IQR, 88-238 minutes); 355 minutes (IQR, 221-675 minutes) for observations vs 298 minutes (IQR, 195-440 minutes); and 235 minutes (IQR, 155-378 minutes) for transfers vs 239 minutes (IQR, 142-368 minutes). Safety-net status was not independently associated with compliance with ED length-of-stay measures; the odds ratio was 0.83 for admissions (95% CI, 0.52-1.34); 1.03 for discharges (95% CI, 0.83-1.27); 1.05 for observations (95% CI, 0.57-1.95), 1.30 for transfers (95% CI, 0.70-2.45]); or subcategories except for psychiatric discharges (1.67, [95% CI, 1.02-2.74]).

CONCLUSION: Compliance with proposed ED length-of-stay measures for admissions, discharges, transfers, and observations did not differ significantly between safety-net and non-safety-net hospitals.

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