The structure of critical care transfer networks.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Moving patients from low-performing hospitals to high-performing hospitals may improve patient outcomes. These transfers may be particularly important in critical care, where small relative improvements can yield substantial absolute changes in survival.


To characterize the existing critical care network in terms of the pattern of transfers.


In a retrospective cohort study, the nationwide 2005 Medicare fee-for-service claims were used to identify the interhospital transfer of critically ill patients, defined as instances where patients used critical care services in 2 temporally adjacent hospitalizations.


We measured the characteristics of the interhospital transfer network and the extent to which intensive care unit patients are referred to each hospital in that network--a continuous quantitative measure at the hospital-level known as centrality. We evaluated associations between hospital centrality and organizational, medical, surgical, and radiologic capabilities.


There were 47,820 transfers of critically ill patients among 3308 hospitals. 4.5% of all critical care stays of any length involved an interhospital critical care transfer. Hospitals transferred out to a mean of 4.4 other hospitals. More central hospital positions were associated with multiple indicators of increased capability. Hospital characteristics explained 40.7% of the variance in hospitals' centrality.


Critical care transfers are common, and traverse an informal but structured network. The centrality of a hospital is associated with increased capability in delivery of services, suggesting that existing transfers generally direct patients toward better resourced hospitals. Studies of this network promise further improvements in patient outcomes and efficiency of care.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Iwashyna, TJ; Christie, JD; Moody, J; Kahn, JM; Asch, DA

Published Date

  • July 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 47 / 7

Start / End Page

  • 787 - 793

PubMed ID

  • 19536030

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC2760433

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-1948

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0025-7079

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1097/mlr.0b013e318197b1f5


  • eng