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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Study Examines Relationship Between Length of Hospital Stay and Time of Discharge for Pediatric Patients

A common strategy used by hospitals to reduce overcrowding of inpatient units may not produce consistent results, a new study suggests. Discharges before noon (DCBNs) are thought to mitigate overcrowding and improve patient outcomes by allowing for earlier emergency department admissions. However, studies of the relationship between DCBNs and length of stay have had mixed results, despite the fact that early discharge rates remain a high priority for many hospitals across the country.

To better understand this relationship, researchers conducted a retrospective study of inpatient admissions at North Carolina Children’s Hospital from May 2014 to April 2017.

Study co-authors include Ms. Hailey J. James, doctoral student, and Dr. George Mark Holmes, professor, both in the department of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health; and Dr. Michael J. Steiner, Michael F. Durfee Distinguished Professor, and Dr. John R. Stephens, professor, both in the department of pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. Dr. Steiner also is affiliated with the UNC Children’s Research Institute.

The researchers compared the length of stay of patients who were discharged from the hospital before noon to the length of stay of those patients discharged after noon. Patients in the study included people ages 21 or younger who spent at least one night in the hospital. According to their analysis, DCBNs were associated with decreased lengths of stay in medical admissions, but not surgical ones.

“We think this study illuminates the importance of continuous evaluation of operational practices with the goal of maximizing desired outcomes,” said Ms. James and Dr. Stephens in a joint statement. “Discharge before noon is an attractive measure of efficiency for hospitals because it is easy to measure and has face validity. However, the evidence is not clear that early discharges are associated with shorter hospital stays for all patients.”

The use of DCBNs to measure discharge efficiency may not be appropriate for all services, and ultimately, the authors conclude, more studies are needed.

A summary of their findings, “The Association of Discharge Before Noon and Length of Stay in Hospitalized Pediatric Patients,” was published online Jan. 8 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

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[Photo: Ms. Hailey James (left) and Dr. Mark Holmes]