Emotional consequences of delays in spinal rehabilitation unit admission or discharge: a qualitative study on the importance of communication

Narelle Warren, Karin Walford, Annisha Susilo, Peter Wayne New

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective: To explore the influence of health communications on the emotional consequences of delays in transfer from acute hospital into a spinal rehabilitation unit (SRU) or delays in discharge from SRU. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted in this exploratory, thematic qualitative research design in an SRU, Melbourne, Australia. Results: Six patients experienced delay in admission to (n = 4) or discharge from (n = 3) the SRU, with one person experiencing both an admission and discharge delay. Median admission delay was 41.5 days, primarily related to bed availability and staffing issues. Participants experiencing a delay in transfer from the acute hospital reported feelings of uncertainty, frustration, disappointment, and concern due to a perception that their functional recovery was compromised because of delayed access to specialist rehabilitation. Psychological issues were less common than emotional responses. One participant spent some of the delay period waiting for admission to the SRU in a non–spinal rehabilitation unit and reported no concerns about his recovery. Median discharge delay was 27 days, largely due to a wait in obtaining funding for equipment. Emotional and psychological responses to delayed discharge, particularly frustration, appeared to be influenced by having a sense of control over the discharge process. Conclusion: Patients’ experiences during the delay periods partially mitigated the emotional and psychological consequences of a delayed admission or discharge on their psychological well-being. Locus of control, where participants reported being able to effect some influence on their situation, appeared to moderate their emotional state. The findings suggest that clinicians can draw on the concept of control to better support patients through periods of delay.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-62
Number of pages9
JournalTopics in Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Delivery of health care health services accessibility
  • Patient discharge
  • Qualitative research
  • Rehabilitation
  • Spinal cord disease

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