Nonurgent Pediatric Admissions on Weekends Bump Up Hospital Costs


Clinical question: Do weekend admissions for failure to thrive (FTT) result in higher costs and length of stay (LOS)?

Background: FTT accounts for up to 5% of all admissions for children younger than 2 years of age. The optimal approach to inpatient or outpatient care is not well defined. Hospitalizations sometimes are used to facilitate costly and intense workups for organic disease. Given the nonurgent nature of this condition and expected barriers to efficient workup on weekends, it is likely that weekend admissions for FTT might not add much value.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Forty-two tertiary-care pediatric hospitals.

Synopsis: A total of 23,332 children younger than 2 were studied over an eight-year period. Saturday and Sunday admissions resulted in an average increase in LOS by 1.93 days and an increase in cost by $2,785 when compared with weekday admissions. Patients admitted on weekends were more likely to have imaging studies and lab tests performed, but were less likely to have a discharge diagnosis of FTT. The authors estimate that if one-half of the weekend admissions from 2010 with a consistent FTT diagnosis at admission and discharge were converted to a Monday admission, $534,145 in savings to the health-care system would result.

One notable limitation of the authors’ conclusions is that patients admitted on weekends appeared to have more organic diagnoses documented and might in fact have been more acutely ill, requiring more workup and intervention. Researchers were not able to further explore this using the administrative data. Nonetheless, a subset of weekend admissions with a consistent FTT diagnosis appeared to represent no value added to the system, and potentially could have resulted in a $3.5 million cost savings had they simply been admitted instead on a weekday.

Bottom line: Nonurgent weekend admissions for FTT are inefficient.

Citation: Thompson RT, Bennett WE, Finnell SME, Downs SM. Increased length of stay and costs associated with weekend admissions for failure to thrive. Pediatrics. 2012;131:e805-e810.

Reviewed by Pediatric Editor Mark Shen, MD, SFHM, medical director of hospital medicine at Dell Children's Medical Center, Austin, Texas.

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