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A third of patients treated at a tertiary-level surgical service could be treated at a secondary-level facility

S van Straten
C Stannard
J Bulabula
K Boodhia
K Paul
J Leong
M.J. Klipin


Background. South Africa (SA) has an overburdened public healthcare system. Some patients admitted to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital (CMJAH), SA, may not require tertiary care, but the numbers and details are uncertain. Clinical research in SA is limited by scarce skills and limited access to data.

Objective. To determine the proportion of and length of stay for secondary-, tertiary- and quaternary-level patients discharged from the Department of Surgery at CMJAH over 1 year.

Methods. This is a retrospective analysis of electronic discharge (ED) summaries from the Department of Surgery at CMJAH between 1 April 2015 and 1 April 2016. An SQL query of the database generated a .csv file of all discharges with the following fields: database reference number, length of stay and level of care. The details of each record were verified by MBBCh V students, using a defined level-ofcare template and the full discharge summary. The data were reviewed by a senior clinician.

Results. There were 3 007 discharge summaries – 97 were not classifiable, two were test records and one was a duplicate. These 100 records were excluded. There were no primary-level records. Secondary-level patients represented 29% (854) of those discharged and 19% of total bed days. Tertiary- and quaternary-level patients together represented 71% of the total and 81% of bed days. The average length of stay was 4.31 days for secondary, 6.98 days for tertiary and 9.77 days for quaternary level-of-care allocation.

Conclusion. Almost one-third (29%) of patients discharged from CMJAH’s Department of Surgery were deemed suitable for secondarylevel care. These patients had a shorter length of stay and comprised 19% of total bed days. Students and electronic databases represent an important research resource.