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Ann Emerg Med. 2011 Aug;58(2):127-136.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2010.12.003. Epub 2011 Jan 12.

Hospital variability in emergency department length of stay for adult patients receiving psychiatric consultation: a prospective study.

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Division of Health Services Research, Partners Psychiatry and Mental Health, Boston, MA, USA.



We ascertain the components of emergency department (ED) length of stay for adult patients receiving psychiatric evaluation and to examine their variability across 5 hospitals within a health care system.


This was a prospective study of 1,092 adults treated between June 2008 and May 2009. Research staff abstracted length of stay and clinical information from the medical records. Clinicians completed a time log for each patient contact. Main outcomes were median times for the overall ED length of stay and its 4 components, or time from triage to request for psychiatric evaluation, request to start of psychiatric evaluation, start to completion of psychiatric evaluation with a disposition decision, and disposition decision to discharge from the ED.


The overall median length of stay was more than 8 hours. Median times for the components were 1.8 hours from triage to request, 15 minutes from request to start of psychiatric evaluation, 75 minutes from start of psychiatric evaluation to disposition decision, and nearly 3 hours from disposition decision to ED discharge. The median disposition decision to discharge time was substantially shorter for patients who went home (40 minutes) than for patients who were admitted (2.5 hours) or transferred for psychiatric admission at other facilities (6.3 hours). When adjustments for patient and clinical factors were made, differences in ED length of stay persisted between hospitals.


ED length of stay for psychiatric patients varied greatly between hospitals, highlighting differences in the organization of psychiatric services and inpatient bed availability. Findings may not generalize to other settings or populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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