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Exploration of clinicians' decision-making regarding transfer of patient care from the emergency department to a medical assessment unit: A qualitative study

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posted on 2022-09-21, 04:02 authored by Helen CleakHelen Cleak, SR Osborne, JWM de Looze

Background: Hospitals face immense pressures in balancing patient throughput. Medical assessment units have emerged as a commonplace response to improve the flow of medical patients presenting to the emergency department requiring hospital admission and to ease overcrowding in the emergency department. The aim of this study was to understand factors influencing the decision-making behaviour of key stakeholders involved in the transfer of care of medical patients from one service to the other in a large, tertiary teaching hospital in Queensland, Australia. Methods: We used a qualitative approach drawing on data from focus groups with key informant health and professional staff involved in the transfer of care. A theoretically-informed, semistructured focus group guide was used to facilitate discussion and explore factors impacting on decisions made to transfer care of patients from the emergency department to the medical assessment unit. Thematic analysis was undertaken to look for patterns in the data. Results: Two focus groups were conducted with a total of 15 participants. Four main themes were identified: (1) we have a process-we just don't use it; (2) I can do it, but can they; (3) if only we could skype them; and (4) why can't they just go up. Patient flow relies on efficiency in two processes-the transfer of care and the physical re-location of the patient from one service to the other. The findings suggest that factors other than clinical reasoning are at play in influencing decision-making behaviour. Conclusions: Acknowledgement of the interaction within and between professional and health staff (human factors) with the organisational imperatives, policies, and process (system factors) may be critical to improve efficiencies in the service and minimise the introduction of workarounds that might compromise patient safety.


This project was funded through a collaborative partnership arrangement between Metro North Hospital and Health Service/Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital and the Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation (AusHSI) at Queensland University of Technology. SRO and JWMdL applied for the funding to support the study. There is no grant number associated with the funding. Neither the funders nor hospital executive had any role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


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© 2022 Cleak et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.