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Prospective Payments in a Regional Trauma Center: The Case for Recognition of the Transfer Patient in Diagnostic Related Groups

London, Jason A. MD, MPH; Rosengart, Matthew R. MD, MPH; Jurkovich, Gregory J. MD; Nathens, Avery B. MD, PhD, MPH

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: February 2006 - Volume 60 - Issue 2 - p 390-396
doi: 10.1097/01.ta.0000203586.66214.34
Original Articles

Background: Transfer patients (TP) differ from patients transported directly from the field (DP) by virtue of their complexity and delays to definitive care, factors that might impact on costs and resource utilization and aggravate the adverse selection that already threatens TC reimbursement.

Methods: This is a retrospective cohort study where patients admitted to a Level I trauma center were classified as a TP or DP. Crude and adjusted total costs, complications, length of stay, and proportion of DRG outliers were compared across the two cohorts.

Results: Among 8,665 patients, 40% were transferred. TP were more likely to be DRG outliers (15% versus 10%, p < 0.001). Costs in 65% of the DRGs were higher in the TP. Rates of complications and length of stay were significantly greater in the TP.

Conclusion: There are systematic differences in resource consumption between transferred patients and patients transported directly from the field. These differences render conventional DRG-based mechanisms of reimbursement inadequate, suggesting a need for recognition of the transfer patient as a distinct entity by payers.

From the Division of Trauma/General Surgery, Harborview Medical Center, Department of Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Submitted for publication June 25, 2004.

Accepted for publication February 2, 2005.

Address for Reprints: Avery B. Nathens, MD, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor of Surgery, University of Washington, Division of Trauma/General Surgery, 325 9th Avenue, Box 359796, Seattle, WA 98104; email:

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.