Transitional care services: a quality and safety process improvement program in neurosurgery

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Readmissions increasingly serve as a metric of hospital performance, inviting quality improvement initiatives in both medicine and surgery. However, few readmission reduction programs have targeted surgical patient populations. The objective of this study was to establish a transitional care program (TCP) with the goal of decreasing length of stay (LOS), improving discharge efficiency, and reducing readmissions of neurosurgical patients by optimizing patient education and postdischarge surveillance.


Patients undergoing elective cranial or spinal neurosurgery performed by one of 5 participating surgeons at a quaternary care hospital were enrolled into a multifaceted intervention. A preadmission overview and establishment of an anticipated discharge date were both intended to set patient expectations for a shorter hospitalization. At discharge, in-hospital prescription filling was provided to facilitate medication compliance. Extended discharge appointments with a neurosurgery TCP-trained nurse emphasized postoperative activity, medications, incisional care, nutrition, signs that merit return to medical attention, and follow-up appointments. Finally, patients received a surveillance phone call 48 hours after discharge. Eligible patients omitted due to staff limitations were selected as controls. Patients were matched by sex, age, and operation type—key confounding variables—with control patients, who were eligible patients treated at the same time period but not enrolled in the TCP due to staff limitation. Multivariable logistic regression evaluated the association of TCP enrollment with discharge time and readmission, and linear regression with LOS. Covariates included matching criteria and Charlson Comorbidity Index scores.


Between 2013 and 2015, 416 patients were enrolled in the program and matched to a control. The median patient age was 55 years (interquartile range 44.5–65 years); 58.4% were male. The majority of enrolled patients underwent spine surgery (59.4%, compared with 40.6% undergoing cranial surgery). Hospitalizations averaged 62.1 hours for TCP patients versus 79.6 hours for controls (a 16.40% reduction, 95% CI 9.30%–23.49%; p < 0.001). The intervention was associated with a higher proportion of morning discharges, which was intended to free beds for afternoon admissions and improve patient flow (OR 3.13, 95% CI 2.27–4.30; p < 0.001), and decreased 30-day readmissions (2.5% vs 5.8%; OR 2.43, 95% CI 1.14–5.27; p = 0.02).


This neurosurgical TCP was associated with a significantly shorter LOS, earlier discharge, and reduced 30-day readmission after elective neurosurgery. These results underscore the importance of patient education and surveillance after hospital discharge.

ABBREVIATIONS CCI = Charlson Comorbidity Index; LOS = length of stay; TCP = transitional care program.

Article Information

Correspondence William B. Gormley, Department of Neurological Surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 75 Francis St., Boston, MA 02115. email:

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online July 14, 2017; DOI: 10.3171/2017.2.JNS161770.

Ms. Robertson and Ms. Logsdon contributed equally to this work.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Flow diagram depicting the components of the TCP.

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    Postoperative outcomes stratified by enrollment in the TCP. The TCP included preoperative education and discharge date assignment, daily postoperative visits from the TCP team during rounds, essential prescriptions filled in-hospital, one-on-one exit consultation, and a follow-up phone call 48 hours after discharge. Bars represent the mean and error bars the SD.



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