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J Hosp Med. 2009 Apr;4(4):226-33. doi: 10.1002/jhm.413.

Natural history of late discharges from a general medical ward.

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  • 1Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center, VA Boston Healthcare System, 150 S.Huntington Ave., Boston, MA 02130, USA.



Slow hospital discharges reduce efficiency and compromise care for patients awaiting a bed. Although efficient discharge is a widely held goal, the natural history of the discharge process has not been well studied.


To describe the discharge process and identify factors associated with longer and later discharges.


Prospective cohort study.


A general medicine ward without house-staff coverage, in a tertiary care hospital (The Johns Hopkins Hospital) in Baltimore, Maryland, from January 1, 2005 to April 30, 2005.


Two hundred and nine consecutively discharged adult inpatients.


Discharge time (primary outcome) and discharge duration (secondary outcome).


Median discharge time was 3:09 PM (25th% to 75th%: 1:08 to 5:00 PM). In adjusted analysis, discharge time was associated with ambulance used on discharge (1.5 hours), prescriptions filled prior to discharge (1.4 hours), subspecialty consult prior to discharge (1.2 hours), and procedure prior to discharge (1.1 hours). Median duration of the discharge process was 7 hours 34 minutes (25th% to 75th%: 4.0 to 22.0 hours). Discharge duration was associated with discharge to a location other than home (28.9 hours), and with need for consultation (14.8 hours) or a procedure (13.4 hours) prior to discharge (all P values <0.05).


Discharge time and duration have wide variability. Longer and later discharges were associated with procedures and consults. Successful efforts to decrease time of discharge will require broad institutional effort to improve delivery of interdepartmental services.

(c) 2009 Society of Hospital Medicine.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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