Consolidation of healthcare in the US has resulted in integrated organizations, encompassing large geographic areas, with varying services and complex patient flows. Profound changes in patient volumes and behavior have occurred during the SARS Cov2 pandemic, but understanding these across organizations is challenging. Network analysis provides a novel approach to address this. We retrospectively evaluated hospital-based encounters with an index emergency department visit in a healthcare system comprising 18 hospitals, using patient transfer as a marker of unmet clinical need. We developed quantitative models of transfers using network analysis incorporating the level of care provided (ward, progressive care, intensive care) during pre-pandemic (May 25, 2018 to March 16, 2020) and mid-pandemic (March 17, 2020 to March 8, 2021) time periods. 829,455 encounters were evaluated. The system functioned as a non-small-world, non-scale-free, dissociative network. Our models reflected transfer destination diversification and variations in volume between the two time points – results of intentional efforts during the pandemic. Known hub-spoke architecture correlated with quantitative analysis. Applying network analysis in an integrated US healthcare organization demonstrates changing patterns of care and the emergence of bottlenecks in response to the SARS Cov2 pandemic, consistent with clinical experience, providing a degree of face validity. The modelling of multiple influences can identify susceptibility to stress and opportunities to strengthen the system where patient movement is common and voluminous. The technique provides a mechanism to analyze the effects of intentional and contextual changes on system behavior.
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