From the Division of Hospital Medicine, University of New Mexico Hospital, Albuquerque (Drs. Bartlett, Pizanis, Angeli, Lacy, and Rogers), Department of Emergency Medicine, University of New Mexico Hospital, Albuquerque (Dr. Scott), and University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque (Ms. Baca).
Background: Emergency department (ED) crowding is associated with deleterious consequences for patient care and throughput. Admission delays worsen ED crowding. Time to admission (TTA)—the time between an ED admission request and internal medicine (IM) admission orders—can be shortened through implementation of a triage hospitalist role. Limited research is available highlighting the impact of triage hospitalists on throughput, care quality, interprofessional practice, and clinician experience of care.
Methods: A triage hospitalist role was piloted and implemented. Run charts were interpreted using accepted rules for deriving statistically significant conclusions. Statistical analysis was applied to interprofessional practice and clinician experience-of-care survey results.
Results: Following implementation, TTA decreased from 5 hours 19 minutes to 2 hours 8 minutes. Emergency department crowding increased from baseline. The reduction in TTA was associated with decreased time from ED arrival to IM admission request, no change in critical care transfers during the initial 24 hours, and increased admissions to inpatient status. Additionally, decreased TTA was associated with no change in referring hospital transfer rates and no change in hospital medicine length of stay. Interprofessional practice attitudes improved among ED clinicians but not IM clinicians. Clinician experience-of-care results were mixed.
Conclusion: A triage hospitalist role is an effective approach for mitigating admission delays, with no evident adverse clinical consequences. A triage hospitalist alone was incapable of resolving ED crowding issues without a complementary focus on downstream bottlenecks.
Keywords: triage hospitalist, admission delay, quality improvement.
Excess time to admission (TTA), defined as the time between an emergency department (ED) admission request and internal medicine (IM) admission orders, contributes to ED crowding, which is associated with deleterious impacts on patient care and throughput. Prior research has correlated ED crowding with an increase in length of stay (LOS)1-3 and total inpatient cost,1 as well as increased inpatient mortality, higher left-without-being-seen rates,4 delays in clinically meaningful care,5,6 and poor patient and clinician satisfaction.6,7 While various solutions have been proposed to alleviate ED crowding,8 excess TTA is one aspect that IM can directly address.
Like many institutions, ours is challenged by ED crowding. Time to admission is a known bottleneck. Underlying factors that contribute to excess TTA include varied admission request volumes in relation to fixed admitting capacity; learner-focused admitting processes; and unreliable strategies for determining whether patients are eligible for ED observation, transfer to an alternative facility, or admission to an alternative primary service.
To address excess TTA, we piloted then implemented a triage hospitalist role, envisioned as responsible for evaluating ED admission requests to IM, making timely determinations of admission appropriateness, and distributing patients to admitting teams. This intervention was selected because of its strengths, including the ability to standardize admission processes, improve the proximity of clinical decision-makers to patient care to reduce delays, and decrease hierarchical imbalances experienced by trainees, and also because the institution expressed a willingness to mitigate its primary weakness (ie, ongoing financial support for sustainability) should it prove successful.
Previously, a triage hospitalist has been defined as “a physician who assesses patients for admission, actively supporting the transition of the patient from the outpatient to the inpatient setting.”9 Velásquez et al surveyed 10 academic medical centers and identified significant heterogeneity in the roles and responsibilities of a triage hospitalist.9 Limited research addresses the impact of this role on throughput. One report described the volume and source of requests evaluated by a triage hospitalist and the frequency with which the triage hospitalists’ assessment of admission appropriateness aligned with that of the referring clinicians.10 No prior research is available demonstrating the impact of this role on care quality, interprofessional practice, or clinician experience of care. This article is intended to address these gaps in the literature.