BACKGROUND: Children’s hospitals (CHs) deliver care to underserved, critically ill, and medically complex patients. However, non-CHs care for the majority of children with frequently occurring conditions. In this study, we aimed to examine resource use across hospitals where children receive care for frequent inpatient conditions.
METHODS: This was a cross-sectional, observational analysis of pediatric hospitalizations for 8 frequent inpatient conditions (pneumonia, asthma, bronchiolitis, mood disorders, appendicitis, epilepsy, skin and soft tissue infections, and fluid and electrolyte disorders) in the 2016 Kids’ Inpatient Database. Primary outcomes were median length of stay (LOS) and median total cost. The primary independent variable was hospital type: nonchildren’s, nonteaching; nonchildren’s, teaching (NCT); and freestanding CHs. Multivariable linear regression was used to assess differences in mean LOS and costs.
RESULTS: There were 354 456 pediatric discharges for frequent inpatient conditions. NCT hospitals cared for more than one-half of all frequent inpatient conditions. CHs and NCT hospitals cared for the majority of patients with higher illness severity and medical complexity. After controlling for patient and hospital factors, discharges for frequent inpatient conditions at CHs had 0.48% longer mean LOS and 61% greater costs compared with NCT hospitals (P < .01).
CONCLUSIONS: CHs revealed higher estimated costs in caring for frequent inpatient conditions despite controlling for patient- and hospital-level factors but also cared for higher illness severity and medical complexity. Further research is warranted to explore whether we lack sufficient measures to control for patient-level factors and whether higher costs are justified by the specialized care at CHs.