Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Stranded: causes and effects of discharge delays involving non-acute in-patients requiring maintenance care in a tertiary hospital general medicine service

Armi Salonga-Reyes A and Ian A. Scott A B C

A Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Ipswich Road, Brisbane, Qld 4102, Australia. Email: armi.salonga-reyes@health.qld.gov.au

B School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Herston Road, Herston, Brisbane, Qld 4067, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: ian.scott@health.qld.gov.au

Australian Health Review 41(1) 54-62 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH15204
Submitted: 30 October 2015  Accepted: 9 February 2016   Published: 31 March 2016

Abstract

Objectives The aims of the present study were to identify causes of prolonged discharge delays among non-acute in-patients admitted to a tertiary general medicine service, quantify occupied bed days (OBDs) and propose strategies for eliminating avoidable delays.

Methods A retrospective study was performed of patients admitted between 1 January 2012 and 31 May 2015 and discharged as non-acute cases requiring maintenance care and who incurred a total non-acute length of stay (LOS) >7 days and total hospital LOS >14 days. Long-stay patients with non-acute LOS ≥28 days were subject to chart review in ascertaining serial causes of discharge delay and their attributable OBDs. Literature reviews and staff feedback identified potential strategies for minimising delays.

Results Of the 406 patients included in the present study, 131 incurred long-stays; for these 131 patients, delays were identified that accounted for 5420 of 6033 (90%) non-acute OBDs. Lack of available residential care beds was most frequent, accounting for 44% of OBDs. Waits for outcomes of guardianship applications accounted for 13%, whereas guardian appointments, Public Trustee applications and funding decisions for equipment or care packages each consumed between 4% and 5% of OBDs. Family and/or carer refusal of care accounted for 7%. Waits for aged care assessment team (ACAT) assessments, social worker reports, geriatrician or psychiatrist reviews and confirmation of enduring power of attorney each accounted for between 1% and 3% of OBDs. Of 30 proposed remedial strategies, those rated as high priority were: greater access to interim care or respite care beds or supported accommodation, especially for patients with special needs; dedicated agency officers for hospital guardianship applications and greater interagency collaboration and harmonisation of assessment and decision processes; and formal requests from hospital administrators to patients and family to accept care options and attend mediation meetings.

Conclusions Delayed discharge of non-acute maintenance care patients results principally from impaired access to residential care, administrative delays involving external agencies and patient or family refusal of care. Proposed remedial actions require concerted interjurisdictional advocacy.

What is known about this topic? Delays in discharge of non-acute patients requiring maintenance care can occur for many reasons and incur inordinately long hospital stays.

What does this paper add? The present detailed chart review of 131 long-stay non-acute patients identified causes of serial discharge delays and quantified their prevalence and attributable bed days. Waits for residential care accounted for less than half the bed days, administrative delays involving decisions by agencies external to the hospital accounted for one-quarter and patient or family refusal of care options accounted for one-tenth. Strategies are proposed that may minimise these delays.

What are the implications for practitioners? Delayed discharge of non-acute patients requiring maintenance care threatens to consume an ever-increasing proportion of acute hospital bed days. Remedial action is required from stakeholders both within and outside hospitals to reverse this trend.


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