IMPORTANCE Reduction in length of hospital stay is a veritable target in reducing the overall costs of health care. However, many existing approaches are flawed because the assumptions of what cause excessive length of stay are incorrect; we methodically identified the right targets in this study. OBJECTIVE To identify the causes of excessively prolonged hospitalization (ExProH) in trauma patients. DESIGN The trauma registry, billing databases, and medical records of trauma admissions were reviewed. Excessively prolonged hospitalization was defined by the standard method used by insurers, which is a hospital stay that exceeds the Diagnosis Related Group-based trim point. The causes of ExProH were explored in a unique potentially avoidable days database, used by our hospital's case managers to track discharge delays. SETTING Level I academic trauma center. PARTICIPANTS Adult trauma patients admitted between January 1, 2006, and December 31, 2010. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES Excessively prolonged hospitalization and hospital cost. RESULTS Of 3237 patients, 155 (5%) had ExProH. The patients with ExProH compared with non-ExProH patients were older (mean [SD] age, 53  vs 47  years, respectively; P = .001), were more likely to have blunt trauma (92%vs 84%, respectively; P = .03), were more likely to be self-payers (16%vs 11%, respectively; P = .02) or covered by Medicare/Medicaid (41% vs 30%, respectively; P = .002), were more likely to be discharged to post-acute care facilities than home (65%vs 35%, respectively; P < .001), and had higher hospitalization cost (mean, $54 646 vs $18 444, respectively; P < .001). Both groups had similar Injury Severity Scores, Revised Trauma Scores, baseline comorbidities, and in-hospital complication rates. Independent predictors of mortality were discharge to a rehabilitation facility (odds ratio = 4.66; 95%CI, 2.71-8.00; P < .001) or other post-acute care facility (odds ratio = 5.04; 95%CI, 2.52-10.05; P < .001) as well as insurance type that was Medicare/Medicaid (odds ratio = 1.70; 95%CI, 1.06-2.72; P = .03) or self-pay (odds ratio = 2.43; 95%CI, 1.35-4.37; P = .003). The reasons for discharge delays were clinical in only 20% of the cases. The remaining discharges were excessively delayed because of difficulties in rehabilitation facility placement (47%), in-hospital operational delays (26%), or payer-related issues (7%). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE System-related issues, not severity of illness, prolong hospital stay excessively. Cost-reduction efforts should target operational bottlenecks between acute and postacute care.
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