A Prospective Study of Reasons for Prolonged Hospitalizations on a General Medicine Teaching Service


  • None of the authors has any real or apparent conflicts of interest. The funding source had no role in data collection, data interpretation, or manuscript preparation.

  • This paper was presented in abstract form at the 26th annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine, April 30–May 3, 2003 Vancouver, British Columbia.

Address correspondence and requests for reprints to Dr. Braithwaite: Yale University School of Medicine, West Haven VA CT Healthcare System, VACS 11 ACSL-G, 950 Campbell Avenue, West Haven, CT 06516 (e-mail: ronald.braithwaite@med.va.gov).


Background: Delays in the care of hospitalized patients may lead to increased length of stay, iatrogenic complications, and costs. No study has characterized delays among general medicine inpatients in the current prospective payment era of care.

Objective: To quantify and characterize delays in care which prolong hospitalizations for general medicine inpatients.

Design: Prospective survey of senior residents.

Setting: Urban tertiary care university-affiliated teaching hospital.

Participants: Sixteen senior residents were surveyed regarding 2,831 patient-days.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and Main Results: Data were collected on 97.6% (2,762) of patient-days eligible for evaluation. Three hundred seventy-three patient-days (13.5% of all hospital days) were judged unnecessary for acute inpatient care, and occurred because of delays in needed services. Sixty-three percent of these unnecessary days were due to nonmedical service delays and 37% were due to medical service delays. The vast majority of nonmedical service delays (84%) were due to difficulty finding a bed in a skilled nursing facility. Medical service delays were most often due to postponement of procedures (54%) and diagnostic test performance (21%) or interpretation (10%), and were significantly more common on weekend days (relative risk [RR], 1.49; P=.02). Indeed, nearly one fourth of unnecessary patient-days (24% overall, 88 patient-days) involved an inability to access medical services on a weekend day (Saturday or Sunday).

Conclusions: At our institution, a substantial number of hospital days were judged unnecessary for acute inpatient care and were attributable to delays in medical and nonmedical services. Future work is needed to develop and investigate measures to decrease delays.