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Logo of emermedjEmergency Medical JournalVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
Emerg Med J. 2003 May; 20(3): 242–246.
PMCID: PMC1726082

Descriptive epidemiology of adult critical care transfers from the emergency department


Aims: To describe the nature, frequency, and characteristics of adult critical care transfers originating from the emergency department (ED).

Methods: A one year prospective regional descriptive study using multiple data sources of all critically ill adults transferred from an ED or a minor injuries unit (MIU) within the former Yorkshire Regional Health Authority Area or into a regional critical care facility if originating from an ED or MIU elsewhere.

Results: 29 EDs transferred 349 adults into the regional critical care facilities. The median number of transfers per department within the region was 18 (range 1 to 42). Seventeen were transferred from outside the region. A total of 263 (75%) patients were transferred for specialist care and 76 (22%) for non-clinical reasons. Altogether 294 (84%) were admitted to intensive care or a high dependency unit at the receiving hospital. The in-hospital documented mortality rate was 26%. A total of 170 patients (49%) had traumatic pathology of which 101 were principally transferred for management of a head injury. Median time in the ED was 3 hours 5 minutes (range 11 minutes to 17 hours 47 minutes). In 146 (42%) patients the decision to transfer was primarily made by the emergency medicine clinician. A total of 251 (72%) patients were intubated. The documented critical incident rate was 15%.

Conclusion: Trauma is the most common reason for transfer of the critically ill adult from the ED. A significant number of patients are transferred, however, with medical and surgical conditions and for non-clinical reasons. There continues to be problems with the quality of care that these patients receive. Emergency medicine clinicians must be actively involved in the development of regional critical care systems as a significant proportion of all critically ill adults transferred originate from the ED.

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