Background — The impact of deferring critically ill children in referral hospitals away from their designated pediatric critical care unit (PCCU) on patients and the healthcare system is unknown. We aimed to identify factors associated with deferrals and patient outcomes and to study the impact of a referral policy implemented to balance PCCU bed capacity with regional needs.
Methods — We conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study of admissions to a PCCU following inter-facility transport from 2004 to 2016 in Ontario, Canada.
Results — Of 10,639 inter-facility transfers, 24.8% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 23.5-26.1%) were deferred during pre-implementation and 16.0% (95% CI: 15.1-16.9%) during post-implementation of a referral policy. Several factors, including previous intensive care unit admissions, residence location, presenting hospital factors, patient co-morbidities, specific designated PCCUs and winter (versus summer) season, were associated with deferral status. Deferrals were not associated with increased mortality.
Conclusions — Deferral from a designated PCCU does not confer an increased risk of death. Implementation of a referral policy was associated with a consistent referral pattern in 84% of transfers.