Effectiveness of intermediate care in nursing-led in-patient units

Patients who suffer an acute illness and are admitted to hospital are often admitted into an acute care ward with many services provided. But while recovering from the illness they may not need those intense services and will need to prepare to go home. Nursing led inpatient units, which are managed by nurses as opposed to physicians, have been designed to prepare patients for home. Ten studies, including over 1800 patients, were analysed to determine if patients sent to a nursing led inpatient unit benefited or at least fared no worse than patients in a unit providing usual care. Compared to usual care, patients in nursing led inpatients units functioned better and experienced greater well-being; more patients were discharged home and not to an institution after about 3 months (but not after 6 months); fewer were readmitted back into hospital soon after discharge; but they stayed in hospital longer. The number of deaths during stay in hospital and 3 to 6 months after discharge was similar between the units (but there was a trend for more deaths early while in nursing led inpatients units that needs to be researched further). It is still not known whether nursing led inpatient units save money - studies in the United Kingdom found them more expensive than usual care units but studies in the United States found them cheaper.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is some evidence that patients discharged from a NLU are better prepared for discharge but it is unclear if this is simply a product of an increased length of inpatient stay. No statistically significant adverse effects were noted but the possibility of increased early mortality cannot be discounted. More research is needed.

Read the full abstract...

The Nursing led inpatient Unit (NLU) is one of a range of services that have been considered in order to manage more successfully the transition between hospital and home for patients with extended recovery times. This is an update of an earlier review published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 3, 2004.


To determine whether nursing-led inpatient units are effective in preparing patients for discharge from hospital compared to usual inpatient care.

Search strategy: 

We searched The Cochrane Library, the Specialized Register of the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) group, MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, BNI and HMIC databases. Citation searches were undertaken on the science and social science citation indices. Authors were contacted to identify additional data. The initial search was done in January 2001. The register search was updated in October 2006, the other database searches were updated in November 2006 and the citation search was run in January 2007.

Selection criteria: 

Controlled trials and interrupted time series designs that compared the NLU to usual inpatient care managed by doctors. Patients over 18 years of age following an acute hospital admission for a physical health condition.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed study quality.

Main results: 

Ten random or quasi-random controlled trials reported on a total of 1896 patients. There was no statistically significant effect on inpatient mortality (OR 1.10, 95% CI 0.56 to 2.16) or mortality to longest follow up (OR 0.92, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.29) but higher quality studies showed a larger non-significant increase in inpatient mortality (OR 1.52, 95% CI 0.86 to 2.68). Discharge to institutional care was reduced for the NLU (OR 0.44 95% CI 0.22 to 0.89) and functional status at discharge increased (SMD 0.37, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.54) but there was a near significant increase in inpatient stay (WMD 5.13 days 95% CI -0.5 days to 10.76 days). Early readmissions were reduced (OR 0.52 95% CI 0.34 to 0.80). One study compared a NLU for the chronically critically ill with ICU care. Mortality (OR 0.62 95% CI 0.35 to 1.10) and length of inpatient stay differ did not differ (WMD 2 days, 95% CI 10.96 to -6.96 days). Early readmissions were reduced (OR 0.33 95% CI 0.12 to 0.94). Costs of care on the NLU were higher for UK studies but lower for US based studies.