The hospital discharge rate of children less than 15 years of age in the United States declined 12% from 1983 to 1984. This was the first time in the 20-year history of the National Hospital Discharge Survey that there was a statistically significant decrease in children's hospital discharge rates in a 1-year period. The change occurred during a period when prospective hospital payment systems were introduced and when prepaid group health plans and alternative systems of providing health care were expanding. The unprecedented decrease in children's hospital use was evaluated using data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. This is a continuous survey in which data from a national sample of medical records of discharged patients are collected. Children's hospital use rates were reviewed by age, sex, region, and expected principal source of payment. Significant decreases in discharge rates were found for the age group 1 to 4 years and for all children with private insurance. The patterns and changes in hospital use by diagnostic category were also investigated. The major finding was a 19% decrease in children's discharge rate for diseases of the respiratory system. Mortality statistics and data from the National Health Interview Survey were evaluated for indications of changes in children's health status or use of physician services accompanying the decline in hospital use. Although there were fewer deaths due to respiratory diseases for children less than 5 years of age in 1984 than in 1983, most measures of health status were unchanged. The only significant change in physician use was a decrease in the percentage of acute conditions that were medically attended, also among children less than 5 years of age. It is important to continue monitoring children's hospital use patterns, as well as their health status and use of alternative health services, to further assess the impact of changes in the organization and financing of health services.
- Received August 18, 1986.
- Accepted November 21, 1986.
- Copyright © 1987 by the American Academy of Pediatrics