Characteristics and timing of interhospital transfers of emergency general surgery patients

Jennifer L. Philip, Megan C. Saucke, Jessica R. Schumacher, Sara Fernandes-Taylor, Jeffrey Havlena, Caprice C. Greenberg, Angela M. Ingraham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Transferred emergency general surgery (EGS) patients have increased morbidity, mortality, and costs, yet little is known about the characteristics of such transfers. Increasing specialization and a decreasing general surgery workforce have led to concerns about access to care, which may lead to increased transfers. We sought to evaluate the reasons for and timing of transfers for EGS diagnoses. Methods: We performed a retrospective medical record review of patients transferred to a tertiary academic medical center between January 4, 2014 and March 31, 2016 who had an EGS diagnosis (bowel obstruction, appendicitis, cholecystitis/cholangitis/choledocholithiasis, diverticulitis, mesenteric ischemia, perforated viscus, or postoperative surgical complication). Results: Three hundred thirty-four patients were transferred from 70 hospitals. Transfer reasons varied with the majority due to the need for specialized services (44.3%) or a surgeon (26.6%). Imaging was performed in 95.8% and 35.3% had surgeon contact before transfer. The percentage of patients who underwent procedures at referring facilities was 7.5% (n = 25), while 60.6% (n = 83) underwent procedures following transfer. Mean time between transfer request and arrival at the accepting hospital was lower for patients who subsequently underwent a procedure at the accepting hospital compared to those who did not for patients originating in emergency departments (2.6 versus 3.4 h, P < 0.05) and inpatient units (6.9 versus 14.3 h, P < 0.05). Conclusions: Interhospital transfers for EGS conditions are frequently motivated by a need for a higher level of care or specialized services as well as a need for a general surgeon. Understanding reasons for transfers can inform decisions regarding the allocation and provision of care for this vulnerable population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-19
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute care surgery
  • Emergency general surgery
  • Interhospital transfers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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