• Vol. 35 No. 1, 27–32
  • 15 January 2006

Factors Causing Delay in Discharge of Elderly Patients in an Acute Care Hospital



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Introduction: Prolonged hospitalisation not only increases cost, it is also associated with other complications. Length of stay (LOS) is one of the indicators that reflect total cost of care during hospitalisation. So, it is of paramount importance to find out why elderly patients overstay in acute care hospitals and address these issues proactively. Since no local data is available, a study was planned to ascertain reasons why the discharging of elderly patients from hospital is delayed and whether these reasons are avoidable.

Materials and Methods: Long-stay patients were defined as those whose LOS had notably exceeded the average LOS for the Diagnosis Related Group (DRG), based on principal admitting diagnosis. A separate analysis showed that the specialty-specific long-stay marker for geriatric medicine was 28 days, so casenote review was done for all patients with LOS of more than 28 days who were discharged from geriatric medicine service of an acute care hospital during a 1-year study period. Information was collected on demographic profile, functional and cognitive status, past medical and social history, admitting medical diagnoses, discharge limiting and delaying factors.

Results: During the study period, 150 patients stayed over 28 days and 137 casenotes were available for review. The mean age of the patients was 84 years, 55.5% were female, 77.4% were Chinese, mean abbreviated mental test (AMT) score was 3 and mean modified Barthel’s score was 11. The commonest primary diagnosis was sepsis followed by neurological problems, falls-related complication and cardiovascular diseases. The 2 most common discharge limiting factors (the final event which resulted in delay in discharge) were social issues (54, 39.4%) and sepsis (47, 34.3%). Of 47 patients with sepsis, 37 (78.7%) were nosocomial infection. Urinary tract infection and pneumonia were the 2 most common nosocomial infections. The 4 most common factors contributing to delayed discharge (various problems that surfaced throughout the hospital stay) were sepsis (94, 68.6%), deconditioning (65, 47.4%), social issues (52, 38.0%) and cardiovascular disorders (37, 27.0%).

Conclusion: Elderly patients are more prone to hospitalisation-related complications like nosocomial infection and deconditioning leading to prolonged hospital stay. Early interventions can reduce these complications. Early identification of social issues and prompt discharge planning should be done to avoid delay in discharge.

With the introduction of block budget for acute care hospitals, cost containment is an important issue for all secondary and tertiary hospitals. Though health care cost was rising at a rate of 31.2% between the year 2002 and 2003, it is important to keep the cost of health care affordable for all citizens of every income group, it should be done without any compromise of the quality of care.

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