Date: 28 Jan 2003

Emergency department visits by demented patients with malfunctioning feeding tubes

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Background: Objective data indicate that feeding tubes in demented patients may not be efficacious and can have serious complications, but no study characterizes emergency department resource utilization for these patients. This study aimed to evaluate the incidence and resource utilization related to feeding tube malfunction in demented patients visiting the emergency department. Methods: A retrospective chart review for all demented patients visiting the emergency department with malfunctioning feeding tubes from September 1999 to May 2001 was conducted. Demographic data, diagnoses, type of tube, length of emergency department stay, method of transportation to the emergency department, consultations, laboratory evaluation, x-ray data, and total hospital and ambulance charges were determined. Results: A total of 138 emergency department visits by 33 patients occurred during this period (range of visits per patients, 1–21; mean, 4.1 ± 4.3). Malfunctions occurred in 61 percutaneous endoscopically placed gastric tubes, 37 jejunostomy tubes, 34 gastric tubes, 4 endoscopically placed gastrostomy and jejunostomy tubes, and 2 percutaneous endoscopically placed jejunostomy tubes. This required 108 ambulance round-trips to and from the emergency department. The most frequent complication was unintentional dislodgement (n = 125). The average length of stay was 2.6 ± 1.6 h. All the patients were seen by an emergency department physician. In addition, there were 99 surgical and 26 gastroenterology consultations about these patients. The total hospital charges, not including physician fees, were $86,234.48, and the total reimbursement (actual) from Medicare for ambulance charges was $57,664.00. During the same 21-month period, 42 feeding tubes were placed for dementia. Conclusions: The expense of emergency department visits for tube dislodgment or malfunction is a previously unreported issue involved in the tube feeding of demented patients. Extrapolation of our data yields an estimated health care charge of almost $11 million for the country per year.