Like much of the developed world, healthcare costs in Canada are rising. A small proportion of patients account for a large proportion of healthcare spending and much of this spending occurs in acute care settings. The purpose of our study was to determine potentially modifiable factors related to care processes that contribute to high-cost admissions.
Using a mixed-methods study design, factors contributing to high-cost admissions were identified from literature and case review. We defined pre- and post-admission factors contributing to high-cost admissions. Pre-admission factors included reason for admission (e.g. complex medical, elective surgery, trauma, etc.). Post-admission factors included medical complications, disposition delays, clinical services delays, and inefficient clinical decision-making. We selected a random sample of admissions in the top decile of inpatient cost from the Ottawa Hospital between January 1 and December 31, 2010. A single reviewer classified cases based on the pre- and post-admission factors. We combined this information with data derived from the Ottawa Hospital Data Warehouse to describe patient-level clinical and demographic characteristics and costs incurred.
We reviewed 200 charts which represents ~5% of all high cost admissions within the Ottawa Hospital in 2010. Post-admission factors contributing to high-cost admissions were: complications (60%), disposition delays (53%), clinical service delays (39%), and inefficient clinical decision-making (13%). Further, these factors varied substantially across service delivery lines. The mean (standard deviation (SD)) cost per admission was $49,923 CDN ($45,773). The most common reason for admission was “complex medical” (49%) and the overall median (IQR) length of stay was 27 (18–48) days. Approximately 1 in 3 high cost admissions (29%) included time in the intensive care unit (ICU).
While high cost admissions often include time in ICU and have long lengths of stay, a substantial proportion of costs were attributable to complications and potentially preventable delays in care processes. These findings suggest opportunities exist to improve outcomes and reduce costs for this diverse patient population.