Emergency department observation units: A clinical and financial benefit for hospitals.
ABSTRACT INTRODUCTION: There are nearly 120 million visits to emergency departments each year, one for every three people in the United States. Fifty percent of all hospital admissions come from this group, a marked change from the mid-1990s when the emergency department was a source of only a third of admissions. As the population increases and ages, the growth rate for emergency department visits and the resulting admissions will exceed historical trends creating a surge in demand for inpatient beds. BACKGROUND: Current health care reform efforts are highlighting deficiencies in access, cost, and quality of care in the United States. The need for more inpatient capacity brings attention to short-stay admissions and whether they are necessary. Emergency department observation units provide a suitable alternate venue for many such patients at lower cost without adversely affecting access or quality. METHODS: This article serves as a literature synthesis in support of observation units, with special emphasis on the clinical and financial aspects of their use. The observation medicine literature was reviewed using PubMed, and selected sources were used to summarize the current state of practice. In addition, the authors introduce a novel conceptual framework around measures of observation unit efficiency. FINDINGS AND PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Observation units provide high-quality and efficient care to patients with common complaints seen in the emergency department. More frequent use of observation can increase patient safety and satisfaction while decreasing unnecessary inpatient admissions and improving fiscal performance for both emergency departments and the hospitals in which they operate. For institutions with the volume to justify the fixed costs of operating an observation unit, the dominant strategy for all stakeholders is to create one.
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ABSTRACT: Acute decompensated heart failure is a common reason for presentation to the emergency department and is associated with high rates of admission to hospital. Distinguishing between higher-risk patients needing hospitalization and lower-risk patients suitable for discharge home is important to optimize both cost-effectiveness and clinical outcomes. However, this can be challenging and few validated risk stratification tools currently exist to help clinicians. Some prognostic variables predict risks broadly in those who are admitted or discharged from the emergency department. Risk stratification methods such as the Emergency Heart Failure Mortality Risk Grade and Acute Heart Failure Index clinical decision support tools, which utilize many of these predictors, have been found to be accurate in identifying low-risk patients. The use of observation units may also be a cost-effective adjunctive strategy that can assist in determining disposition from the emergency department.Current Heart Failure Reports 07/2012; 9(3):252-9.
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ABSTRACT: Observation care is a core component of emergency care delivery, yet, the prevalence of emergency department (ED) observation units (OUs) and use of observation care after ED visits is unknown. Our objective was to describe the 1) prevalence of OUs in United States (US) hospitals, 2) clinical conditions most frequently evaluated with observation, and 3) patient and hospital characteristics associated with use of observation. Retrospective analysis of the proportion of hospitals with dedicated OUs and patient disposition after ED visit (discharge, inpatient admission or observation evaluation) using the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) from 2001 to 2008. NHAMCS is an annual, national probability sample of ED visits to US hospitals conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Logistic regression was used to assess hospital-level predictors of OU presence and polytomous logistic regression was used for patient-level predictors of visit disposition, each adjusted for multi-level sampling data. OU analysis was limited to 2007-2008. In 2007-2008, 34.1% of all EDs had a dedicated OU, of which 56.1% were under ED administrative control (EDOU). Between 2001 and 2008, ED visits resulting in a disposition to observation increased from 642,000 (0.60% of ED visits) to 2,318,000 (1.87%, p<.05). Chest pain was the most common reason for ED visit resulting in observation and the most common observation discharge diagnosis (19.1% and 17.1% of observation evaluations, respectively). In hospital-level adjusted analysis, hospital ownership status (non-profit or government), non-teaching status, and longer ED length of visit (>3.6 h) were predictive of OU presence. After patient-level adjustment, EDOU presence was associated with increased disposition to observation (OR 2.19). One-third of US hospitals have dedicated OUs and observation care is increasingly used for a range of clinical conditions. Further research is warranted to understand the quality, cost and efficiency of observation care.PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(9):e24326. · 4.09 Impact Factor
Article: Evaluating the effect of clinical decision units on patient flow in seven Canadian emergency departments.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: To evaluate the effect of emergency department (ED) clinical decision units (CDUs) on overall ED patient flow in a pilot project funded in 2008 by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). A retrospective analysis of unscheduled ED visits at seven CDU pilot and nine control sites was conducted using administrative data. The authors examined trends in CDU utilization and compared outcomes between pilot-CDU and control sites 1 year prior to implementation, with the first 18 months of CDU operation. Sites that were unsuccessful in their applications for CDU program funding served as controls. Outcomes included ED length of stay (LOS), admission rates, and ED revisit rates. At CDU sites, roughly 4% of ED patients were admitted to CDUs. The presence of a pilot-CDU was independently associated with a small reduction in ED LOS for all low-acuity patients (-0.14 hour, 95% confidence interval [CI]=-0.22 to -0.07) and nonadmitted patients (-0.11 hour, 95% CI=-0.16 to -0.07). A small independent effect on absolute hospital admission rate for all high-acuity patients (-0.8%, 95% CI=-1.5% to -0.03%) and moderate-acuity patients (-0.6%, 95% CI=-1.1% to -0.2%) was also observed. Pilot-CDUs were not associated with changes in ED revisit rates. With only 4% of ED patients admitted to CDUs, the potential for efficiency gains in these EDs was limited. Nonetheless, these findings suggest small improvements in the operation of the ED through CDU implementation. Although marginal, the observed effects of CDU operation were in the desired direction of reduced ED LOS, reduced admission rate, and no increase in ED revisit rate.Academic Emergency Medicine 07/2012; 19(7):828-36. · 1.86 Impact Factor