Epstein RH, et al. J Med Syst 2020.
When hospital capacity is near census, either due to limits on the number of physical or staffed beds, delays in patients' discharge can result in domino effects of congestion for the emergency department, the intensive care units, the postanesthesia care unit, and the operating room. Hospital administrators often promote increasing the percentage of patients discharged before noon as mitigation. However, benchmark data from multiple hospitals are lacking. We studied the time of weekday inpatient discharges from all 202 acute care hospitals in the state of Florida between 2010 and 2018 using publicly available data. Statewide, the average length of stay (4.63 days) did not change, but hospital discharges increased 6.1%. There was no change over years in the percentage of patients discharged before 12 noon (13.0% ± 0.28% standard error [SE]) or before 3 PM (42.2% ± 0.25% SE). For every year, the median hour of patient discharge was 3 PM. Only 9 of the 202 hospitals (4.5%) reliably achieved a morning weekday discharge rate ≥ 20.0%. Only 19 hospitals (9.4%) in the state reliably achieved a ≥ 50.0% weekday discharge rate before 3 PM. Hospital administrators seeking to achieve earlier patient discharges can use our provided data as realistic benchmarks to guide efforts. Alternatively, administrators could plan based on a model that beds will not be reliably available for new patients until late in the afternoon and apply other well-developed operational strategies to address bottlenecks affecting the internal transfer of patients within the hospital.