Constructing episodes of inpatient care: How to define hospital transfer in hospital administrative health data? IJPDS (2017) Issue 1, Vol 1:162, Proceedings of the IPDLN Conference (August 2016)

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Mingkai Peng Bing Li Danielle Southern Hude Quan
Published online: Apr 18, 2017


Hospital administrative data creates a separate record for each hospital stay of patients. Treating a hospital transfer as a readmission could lead to biased results in health service research, resource planning, and quality of patient care. This study is to identify the optimal time gaps between two hospitalizations to identify hospital transfer cases.

This is a cross-sectional study. We used the hospital discharge abstract database (DAD) in 2013 from Alberta, Canada to define transfer cases. Institution code and transfer indicators of “institution to” and “institution from” are mandatory in Canadian DAD and have high reliability. We defined transfer cases by transfer institution indicators and used it as the reference standard. Different time gaps between two hospitalizations (6, 9, 12 and 24 hours) were used to identify transfer cases. We compared the sensitivity and positive predictive value (PPV) of different transfer case definitions across different categories of sex, age, and location of residences. Readmission rate within 30 days was also compared after the episode of care were defined by combining transfer cases at the different time gaps.

Sensitivity increased with an increase of time gap between two hospitalizations while PPV decreased. Use of ≤ 6 hours lead to low sensitivity for patients under the age of 50 or living in the rural area; Use of ≤ 24 hours lead to low PPV for patients under the age of 50 or living in urban area. Use of ≤ 12 hours overestimated the 30 days readmission rate compared with the reference standard. The time gap of 9 hours between two hospitalizations is the optimal way to identify transfer cases with the sensitivity of 0.97 and the PPV of 0.95.

We recommend the use of a time gap of up to 9 hours between two hospitalizations to define hospital transfer in inpatient databases. This validated definition provides a foundation for research in health service and for outcomes such as readmission.


Sub-Saharan Africa is the region most heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV increases the risk of developing cancer but the ascertainment of cancers in patients attending antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment programs might be incomplete. To estimate the under-ascertainment of cancer we compared incidence rates of AIDS-defining cancers in South African HIV cohorts with and without cancer case ascertainment through record linkage with the National Cancer Registry.


We used the data of adult (\(\geq\)16 years) HIV-positive persons receiving care between 2004 and 2011 at one of four ART programs in South Africa. These programs collaborate with the International Epidemiologic Databases to Evaluate AIDS Southern Africa ( and collected data for AIDS-defining cancers but not for other cancers. To improve cancer ascertainment we probabilistically linked patient records (using first name, surname, age, and gender) from two HIV cohorts with the cancer records of the South African National Cancer Registry. We calculated incidence rates per 100,000 person-years after starting ART for the AIDS-defining cancers, i.e. Kaposi sarcoma (KS), invasive cervical cancer (ICC) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). We compared incidence rates before and after inclusion of record linkage identified cancer cases using the attributable fraction of cancers identified with 95% confidence intervals (CI).


A total of 49,207 adults starting ART in South Africa were included. 65% of patients were female, median age at starting ART was 35 years (interquartile range 30-41 years). We identified a total of 471 incident cancer cases. With record linkage the incidence increased from 81 to 292 for KS, from 1 to 119 for NHL and 12 to 497 for ICC per 100,000 person-years. The attributable fraction of cancers identified was 72% (95% CI 63-79%) for KS, 98% (95% CI 94-99%) for NHL and 98% (95% CI 95-99%) for ICC.


Ascertainment of cancer in HIV program data in African settings is incomplete. This case study has shown that probabilistic record linkage to cancer registries is both feasible and essential for cancer ascertainment in HIV cohorts in South Africa.

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