Background and objectives: Acute heart failure (AHF) is one of the main causes of hospitalization in Western countries. Usually, patients cannot be admitted directly to the wards (access block) and stay in the emergency room. Holding units are clinical decision units, or observation units, within the ED that are able to alleviate access block and to contribute to a reduction in hospitalization. Observation units have also been shown to play a role in specific clinical conditions, like the acute exacerbation of heart failure. This study aimed to analyze the impact of a brief intensive observation (OBI) area on the management of acute heart failure (AHF) patients. The OBI is a holding unit dedicated to the stabilization of unstable patients with a team of dedicated physicians. Materials and Methods: We conducted a retrospective and single-centered observational study with retrospective collection of the data of all patients who presented to our emergency department with AHF during 2017. We evaluated and compared two cohorts of patients, those treated in the OBI and those who were not, in terms of the reduction in color codes at discharge, mortality rate within the emergency room (ER), hospitalization rate, rate of transfer to less intensive facilities, and readmission rate at 7, 14, and 30 days after discharge. Results: We enrolled 920 patients from 1st January to 31st December. Of these, 61% were transferred to the OBI for stabilization. No statistically significant difference between the OBI and non-OBI populations in terms of age and gender was observed. OBI patients had worse clinical conditions on arrival. The patients treated in the OBI had longer process times, which would be expected, to allow patient stabilization. The stabilization rate in the OBI was higher, since presumably OBI admission protected patients from "worse condition" at discharge. Conclusions: Data from our study show that a dedicated area of the ER, such as the OBI, has progressively allowed a change in the treatment path of the patient, where the aim is no longer to admit the patient for processing but to treat the patient first and then, if necessary, admit or refer. This has resulted in very good feedback on patient stabilization and has resulted in a better management of beds, reduced admission rates, and reduced use of high intensity care beds.
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