Impact of emergency access targets on admissions to general medicine: A retrospective cohort study

L. Nash, M. Tacey, D. Liew, C. Jones, M. Truesdale, D. Russell

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Background: Emergency access targets have been implemented Australia-wide following recent retrospective cohort studies linking emergency department (ED) overcrowding and excess mortality. Aim: To examine the impact of ED access targets on the characteristics and health service utilisation of general medicine (GM) inpatients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted on all patient episodes admitted from ED to GM units from January 2009 to December 2012 (n = 15562), compared in two cohorts for 24 months before (n = 7393) and after (n = 8169) the implementation of the '4-h rule'. The main outcome measures were age, comorbidity, clinical urgency at presentation (Australasian Triage Score), ED and inpatient length of stay, diagnosis at discharge, and in-hospital complications. Results: After the implementation of the '4-h rule', there was an increased proportion of younger patients aged ≤50 years (7.7-9.1%), urgent Australasian Triage Scale 3 (45.6-49.7%) and semi-urgent Australasian Triage Scale 4 (21.8-27.6%) patients admitted to GM. On average, GM patients had fewer comorbid conditions (proportion with Charlson score ≥6 decreased from 14.2% to 11.9%), and higher proportions (21.8-24.7%) were admitted for less than 48h. Conclusion: Implementation of a 4-h access target has been associated with changes to the characteristics of patients admitted to GM, including higher proportions of younger patients, with fewer comorbid conditions and lower clinical urgency at presentation, although the latter may be explained by a coincidental change in the way that ED patients were triaged, as well as a greater number of these patients presenting to ED overall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1110-1116
Number of pages7
JournalInternal Medicine Journal
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Access target
  • Emergency department
  • General medicine
  • Health reform
  • Healthcare utilisation
  • Hospital
  • NEAT

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