Patient flow is a major problem in hospitals. Delays in accessing inpatient rehabilitation have not been well studied. AIMS: Measure the time taken for key processes in the patient journey from acute hospital admission through to inpatient rehabilitation admission in order to identify opportunities for improvement. METHODS: Retrospective open cohort study. All patients admitted over 8- and 10-month periods during 2008 into two inpatient rehabilitation units in Melbourne, Australia. Main outcome measures were the duration of the following key processes: acute hospital admission until referral for rehabilitation, referral until assessment by the rehabilitation service, assessment until deemed ready for transfer to rehabilitation, ready for transfer until rehabilitation admission. RESULTS: Three hundred and sixty patients were in the study sample (females = 186; 51.7 ); mean age = 58.4 (standard deviation = 15.0) years. There was a median of 7 (interquartile range [IQR] 4-13) days from acute hospital admission till referral for rehabilitation, a median of 1 (IQR 0-1) day from referral till assessment, a median of 0 (IQR 0-2) days from assessment till deemed ready for transfer and a median of 1 (IQR 0-3) day from ready till admission into rehabilitation. Overall, patients spent 12.0 (804/6682) of their acute hospital admission waiting for a rehabilitation bed. CONCLUSIONS: There are opportunities to improve the efficiency of key processes in the acute hospital journey for patients subsequently admitted to inpatient rehabilitation; in particular, reducing the time from acute hospital admission till referral for rehabilitation and from being deemed ready for transfer to rehabilitation till admission.