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Am J Public Health. 1988 Oct;78(10):1287-92.

Emergency department patient 'dumping': an analysis of interhospital transfers to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Tennessee.

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Regional Medical Center, Memphis, TN 38103.


To study the extent and nature of transfers of emergency department (ED) patients because of inability to pay, we audited all telephone requests and actual patient transfers from private hospital EDs and their affiliated free-standing emergency centers to the ED of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (the Med), a publicly subsidized hospital, between June 1 and August 31, 1986. Transfers to the Med's "special care" centers were assumed to represent tertiary care referrals and were excluded. During the 92-day study interval, ED physicians at the Med handled 190 telephone requests for transfer. Requesting physicians explicitly identified "no money" or "no insurance" as the primary reason for transfer in 89 per cent of 164 cases in which these data were recorded. Thirty-seven per cent of requests were refused; half were too unstable or required an intensive care unit (ICU) bed when none were available. One hundred forty-six transfers (55 per cent) arrived without prior telephone authorization, most by private automobile. Almost all transferred patients (91 per cent) were sent for primarily economic reasons. One out of four was found to be unstable on arrival by explicit clinical criteria. Eighty-two patients transferred for economic reasons (34 per cent) required emergency hospitalization and accounted for 564 bed days during a period of extreme inpatient crowding. Three patients died prior to discharge. Two had been transferred for primarily economic reasons.

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