The Effect of Transfers Between Health Care Facilities on Costs and Length of Stay for Pediatric Burn Patients

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Hospitals vary widely in the services they offer to care for pediatric burn patients. When a hospital does not have the ability or capacity to handle a pediatric burn, the decision often is made to transfer the patient to another short-term hospital. Transfers may be based on available specialty coverage for children; which adult and non-teaching hospitals may not have available. The effect these transfers have on costs and length of stay (LOS) has on pediatric burn patients is not well established and is warranted given the prominent view that pediatric hospitals are inefficient or more costly. The authors examined inpatient admissions for pediatric burn patients in 2003, 2006, and 2009 using the Kids’ Inpatient Database, which is part of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. ICD-9-CM codes 940 to 947 were used to define burn injury. The authors tested if transfer status was associated with LOS and total charges for pediatric burn patients, while adjusting for traditional risk factors (eg, age, TBSA, insurance status, type of hospital [pediatric vs adult; teaching vs nonteaching]) by using generalized linear mixed-effects modeling. A total of n = 28,777 children had a burn injury. Transfer status (P < .001) and TBSA (P < .001) was independently associated with LOS, while age, insurance status, and type of hospital were not associated with LOS. Similarly, transfer status (P < .001) and TBSA (P < .001) was independently associated with total charges, while age, insurance status, and type of hospital were not associated with total charges. In addition, the data suggest that the more severe pediatric burn patients are being transferred from adult and non-teaching hospitals to pediatric and teaching hospitals, which may explain the increased costs and LOS seen at pediatric hospitals. Larger more severe burns are being transferred to pediatric hospitals with the ability or capacity to handle these conditions in the pediatric population, which has a dramatic impact on costs and LOS. As a result, unadjusted, pediatric hospitals are seen as being inefficient in treating pediatric burns. However, since pediatric hospitals see more severe cases, after adjustment, type of hospital did not influence costs and LOS. TBSA and transfer status were the predictors studied that independently affect costs and LOS.

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