The Impact of Timing on Clinical and Economic Outcomes during Inter-ICU Transfer of Acute Respiratory Failure Patients: Time and Tide Wait for No One

Nandita R. Nadig*, Daniel L. Brinton, Kit N. Simpson, Andrew J. Goodwin, Annie N. Simpson, Dee W. Ford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


IMPORTANCE AND OBJECTIVE: Approximately one in 30 patients with acute respiratory failure (ARF) undergoes an inter-ICU transfer. Our objectives are to describe inter-ICU transfer patterns and evaluate the impact of timing of transfer on patient-centered outcomes. DESIGN: Retrospective, quasi-experimental study. SETTING: We used the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases in five states (Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, and Washington) during 2015-2017. PARTICIPANTS: We selected patients with International Classification of Diseases, 9th and 10th Revision codes of respiratory failure and mechanical ventilation who underwent an inter-ICU transfer (n = 6,718), grouping as early (≤ 2 d) and later transfers (3+ d). To control for potential selection bias, we propensity score matched patients (1:1) to model propensity for early transfer using a priori defined patient demographic, clinical, and hospital variables. MAIN OUTCOMES: Inhospital mortality, hospital length of stay (HLOS), and cumulative charges related to inter-ICU transfer. RESULTS: Six-thousand seven-hundred eighteen patients with ARF underwent inter-ICU transfer, 68% of whom (n = 4,552) were transferred early (≤ 2 d). Propensity score matching yielded 3,774 well-matched patients for this study. Unadjusted outcomes were all superior in the early versus later transfer cohort: inhospital mortality (24.4% vs 36.1%; p < 0.0001), length of stay (8 vs 22 d; p < 0.0001), and cumulative charges ($118,686 vs $308,977; p < 0.0001). Through doubly robust multivariable modeling with random effects at the state level, we found patients who were transferred early had a 55.8% reduction in risk of inhospital mortality than those whose transfer was later (relative risk, 0.442; 95% CI, 0.403-0.497). Additionally, the early transfer cohort had lower HLOS (20.7 fewer days [13.0 vs 33.7; p < 0.0001]), and lower cumulative charges ($66,201 less [$192,182 vs $258,383; p < 0.0001]). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Our study is the first to use a large, multistate sample to evaluate the practice of inter-ICU transfers in ARF and also define early and later transfers. Our findings of favorable outcomes with early transfer are vital in designing future prospective studies evaluating evidence-based transfer procedures and policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E0642
JournalCritical Care Explorations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • early
  • inter-intensive care unit transfer
  • later
  • outcomes
  • respiratory failure
  • timing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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