New CLEAR Publication

Decisions to Transfer Nursing Home Residents to Emergency Departments: A Scoping Review of Contributing Factors and Staff Perspectives.

19 October 2016

Decisions to Transfer Nursing Home Residents to Emergency Departments: A Scoping Review of Contributing Factors and Staff Perspectives.

Lisa M. Trahan,

Jude A. Spiers,

Greta G. Cummings

2016 Jun 24. pii: S1525-8610(16)30158-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2016.05.012. [Epub ahead of print]

Download PDF



Nursing home (NH) residents are a frail and vulnerable population often faced with iatrogenic effects of hospital stays when transferred to emergency departments for acute changes in health status. Avoidable or unnecessary transfers of care need to be identified and defined to prevent unintended harm. The aim of this scoping review was to identify characteristics of avoidable or unnecessary transitions of NH residents to emergency departments, and examine factors influencing decision-making by NH staff, residents, and their family members to transfer nursing home residents to emergency departments.


The search strategy began with 5 electronic databases, and a hand search of gray literature. Published qualitative and quantitative studies were included that examined the definition of avoidable or unnecessary transfers, and/or reported factors associated with decision-making to transfer NH residents to emergency departments. Methods included quality assessments, data extraction, and synthesis using content analysis.


A total of 783 titles and abstracts were retrieved and screened resulting in 19 included studies. Results describing "avoidable" or "unnecessary" transfers were grouped into 3 dimensions of factors: management of early-acute or low-acuity symptoms and chronic disease management in NHs, ambulatory care-sensitive indicators, and use of post hoc assessments. Five categories of factors contributing to decision-making to transfer were identified: nursing factors, physician factors, facility/resource factors, NH resident/family factors, and health system factors. A consensus on the definition of "avoidable" or "unnecessary" transfers was not found.


Findings suggest that transfers of NH residents to emergency departments may be avoided with increased care capacity within NHs. The decision-making process involved in the transfer is influenced by many factors, with intentions of both improving clinical outcomes and maintaining quality of life for the NH resident. Acute changes in health status are contextually specific and decisions must consider not only the resident's acute condition, but also resources available in the NH, and resident and family members' preferences for care. A definition of "avoidable" or "unnecessary" transfer must include reliable measurement, yet remain flexible enough to be generalizable to various care facilities to meet the needs of NH residents and manage required care safely within the NH. Robust research aimed at improving the primary care of NH residents is essential to informing health policy reform and education of those providing care in NHs.