Child mortality in the United States has decreased over time, with advance in biomedicine. Little is known about patterns of current pediatric health care delivery for children with the leading causes of child death (high-impact conditions). We described patient and hospital characteristics, and hospital resource use, among children hospitalized with high-impact conditions, according to illness severity.
We conducted a retrospective study of children 0-18 years of age, hospitalized with discharge diagnoses of the ten leading causes of child death, excluding diagnoses not amenable to hospital care, using the 2006 version of the Kid's Inpatient Database. National estimates of average and cumulative hospital length of stay and total charges were compared between types of hospitals according to patient illness severity, which was measured using all-patient refined diagnosis related group severity classification into minor-moderate, major, and extreme severity.
There were an estimated 3,084,548 child hospitalizations nationally for high-impact conditions in 2006, distributed evenly among hospital types. Most (84.4%) had minor-moderate illness severity, 12.2% major severity, and 3.4% were extremely ill. Most (64%) of the extremely ill were hospitalized at children's hospitals. Mean hospital stay was longest among the extremely ill (32.8 days), compared with major (9.8 days, p < 0.0001), or minor-moderate (3.4 days, p < 0.001) illness severity. Mean total hospital charges for the extremely ill were also significantly higher than for hospitalizations with major or minor-moderate severity. Among the extremely ill, more frequent hospitalization at children's hospitals resulted in higher annual cumulative charges among children's hospitals ($ 7.4 billion), compared with non-children teaching hospitals ($ 3.2 billion, p = 0.023), and non-children's non-teaching hospitals ($ 1.5 billion, p < 0.001). Cumulative annual length of hospital stay followed the same pattern, according to hospital type.
Gradation of increasing illness severity among children hospitalized for high-impact conditions was associated with concomitantly increased resource consumption. These findings have significant implications for children's hospitals which appear to accrue the highest resource use burden due to preferential hospitalization of the most severely ill at these hospitals.