Observation Units as Substitutes for Hospitalization or Home Discharge

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Abstract

Study objective:

Observation unit admissions have been increasing, a trend that will likely continue because of recent changes in reimbursement policies. The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of the availability of observation units on hospitalizations and discharges to home for emergency department (ED) patients.

Methods:

We studied ED visits with a final diagnosis of chest pain in the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2007 to 2010. ED visits that resulted in an observation unit admission were propensity-score matched to visits at hospitals without an observation unit. We used logistic regression to develop a prediction model for hospitalization versus discharge home for matched patients treated at nonobservation hospitals. The model was applied to matched observation unit patients to determine the likely alternative disposition had the observation unit not been available.

Results:

There were 1,325 eligible visits that represented 5,079,154 visits in the United States. Two hundred twenty-seven visits resulted in an observation unit admission. The predictive model for hospitalization had a c statistic of 0.91; variables significantly associated with subsequent hospitalization included age, history of coronary atherosclerosis, systolic blood pressure less than 115 beats/min, and administration of antianginal medications. When the model was applied to matched observation unit patients, 49.9% of them were categorized as discharge home likely.

Conclusion:

In this study, we estimated that half of ED visits for chest pain that resulted in an observation unit admission were made by patients who may have been discharged home had the observation unit not been available. Increased availability of observation units may result in both decreased hospitalizations and decreased discharges to home.

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