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Can J Surg. 2002 Aug;45(4):264-8.

Causes of increased length of hospitalization on a general thoracic surgery service: a prospective observational study.

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Department of Surgery, McGill University, Montreal, Que.

Erratum in

  • Can J Surg. 2003 Dec;46(6):466.
  • Can J Surg. 2004 Feb;47(1):69.



To characterize medical and nonmedical reasons for delayed discharge on a general thoracic surgery unit.


A prospective observational cohort study.


A university-affiliated tertiary care institution.


Between February 1999 and July 2000, the in-hospital progress of 130 patients who had undergone an elective thoracic surgical procedure was evaluated prospectively. Baseline characteristics (age, sex, comorbid conditions and pulmonary function test results) were documented.


Complications that delayed the time when the patient was medically ready for discharge. The day the patient was deemed fit for discharge (medically required length of stay) was compared with the actual day of discharge (actual length of stay).


The 3 most frequent complications that prevented discharge by postoperative day 6 were persistent air leaks, pulmonary infections and atrial fibrillation. The presence of a persistent air leak increased the medically required length of stay by a mean of 13.1 days (95% confidence interval [CI] 11.0-15.2 d), pneumonia by 9.6 days (95% CI 4.96-14.2 d) and atrial fibrillation by 2.4 days (95% CI -2.6 to 7.4 d). The mean medically required length of stay was 6.9 days, and this differed from the mean day on which the patient was actually discharged (7.35 d, p < 0.01), which contributed 44 excess days of hospitalization per 100 patients. The 2 most common causes of this discrepancy were the lack of home support (10.2% of patients) and the unavailability of convalescent facilities (7.1% of patients). Prolonged hospital stay for nonmedical reasons was associated with increased mean age (67.4 v. 60.7 yr, p = 0.05).


Length of hospitalization after elective thoracic surgery may be prolonged for medical or nonmedical reasons. Although complications like persistent air leak and pneumonia have an impact on medically required length of stay, social factors may also significantly delay discharge.

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