Trends and variations in length of hospital stay for childbirth in Canada

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Abstract

Background

Early discharge after childbirth is widely reported. In this study the authors examined trends in maternal length of hospital stay in Canada from fiscal year 1984-85 through fiscal year 1994-95. They also examined variations in length of stay in 1994-95 in most of the Canadian provinces and the territories.

Methods

Epidemiologic analyses of the temporal and geographic variations in maternal length of hospital stay in Canada from 1984-85 to 1994-95 (even years only), based on hospital discharge data collected by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, with a total of 1 456 800 women for the 6 study years.

Results

Mean length of hospital stay decreased during the decade, from 5.3 days in 1984-85 to 3.0 days in 1994-95, with similar trends for both cesarean and vaginal delivery. The decrease resulted from both increasing rates of short stay (less than 2 days) and decreasing rates of long stay (more than 4 days). Substantial temporal and interprovincial variations in several medical and obstetric complications were also observed but did not explain the corresponding variations in length of stay. The reduction in length of hospital stay was not restricted to uncomplicated cases: there was an equivalent decrease in cases with complications. In 1994-95 the average length of hospital stay in Alberta was 2.6 days, 0.3 to 1.7 days shorter than in the other provinces and the territories.

Interpretation

Length of hospital stay for childbirth has decreased substantially in Canada in recent years, but there remain important interprovincial variations. These trends and variations are not likely due to changes or differences in patient-specific factors.

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