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6 Ways to Improve Patient Transfers to AMCs

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, April 6, 2011

Although academic medical centers have seen an 18% increase in transfers from community hospitals into their facilities over the past three years, the mortality rate for transferred patients has actually declined. That's according to data submitted from 86 university hospitals to the University HealthSystem Consortium (UHC), which represents more than 90% of the nation's nonprofit academic medical centers.

UHC attributes this improvement to better communication and partnerships between community hospitals and academic medical centers. According UHC Chief Medical Officer and SVP Mark A. Keroack, MD, MPH, advance planning is critical because decisions about transfers shouldn't be made on-the-fly.

"A lot of our member organizations have developed relationships with these community hospitals," he said in an interview. "They tend to have conversations about certain case types at a time when things are kind of cooler; when there's not a desperately ill patient right in front of you."

Keroack said community hospitals should have a transfer protocol in place long before a sick or injured person comes through the door. Here are a few steps to improve the transfer process at your organization:

1.Identify the primary referral destination: Although this may sound obvious, it may not be when there are several AMCs to choose from. Whatever the case, don't leave the choice about referral destinations to an individual's arbitrary discretion. Also remember that there "might be different destinations for different kinds of patients," Keroack said.

2.Form relationships: When transferring patients, it helps to have established professional relationship with staff at the destination, rather than picking up the phone and talking with a stranger. According to Keroack the hospital CEO and the chief medical officer, medical director, or other lead physician executive should be spearheading these relationships with AMCs. "A community hospital really ought to insist on that level of cooperation," Keroack said. "If I were running a community hospital, I'd say, 'It's my job to make sure that those conversations are happening."

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