Interfacility transfers may reflect a time delay of definitive surgical care, but few studies have examined the prevalence of interfacility transfers in the urban low- and middle-income (LMIC) setting. The aim of this study was to determine the number of interfacility transfers required for surgical and obstetric conditions in an urban MIC setting to better understand access to definitive surgical care among LMIC patients.
A retrospective analysis of public interfacility transfer records was conducted from April 2015 to April 2016 in Cali, Colombia. Data were obtained from the single municipal ambulance agency providing publicly funded ambulance transfers in the city. Interfacility transfers were defined as any patient transfer between two healthcare facilities. We identified the number of transfers for patients with surgical conditions and categorized transfers based on patient ICD-9-CM codes. We compared surgical transfers from public vs. private healthcare facilities by condition type (surgical, obstetric, nonsurgical), transferring physician specialty, and transfer acuity (code blue, emergent, urgent and nonurgent) using logistic regression.
31,659 patient transports occurred over the 13-month study period. 22250 (70.2%) of all transfers were interfacility transfers and 7777 (35%) of transfers were for patients with surgical conditions with an additional 2,244 (10.3%) for obstetric conditions. 49% (8660/17675) of interfacility transfers from public hospitals were for surgical and obstetric conditions vs 32% (1466/4580) for private facilities (P<0.001). The most common surgical conditions requiring interfacility transfer were fractures (1,227, 5.4%), appendicitis (913, 4.1%), wounds (871, 3.9%), abdominal pain (818, 3.6%), trauma (652, 2.9%), and acute abdomen (271, 1.2%).
Surgical and obstetric conditions account for nearly half of all urban interfacility ambulance transfers. The most common reasons for transfer are basic surgical conditions with public healthcare facilities transferring a greater proportion of patient with surgical conditions than private facilities. Timely access to an initial healthcare facility may not be a reliable surrogate of definitive surgical care given the substantial need for interfacility transfers.