Over a 10-year period, rates of short-stay inpatient hospitalizations increased for children and adolescents but decreased for elderly who had a primary psychiatric diagnosis, according to a report published Online First today by Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The article also finds the proportion of inpatient days paid for by private health insurance appeared to decline among children, adolescents and adults.
According to background information in the article, inpatient care for psychiatric conditions in short-stay settings increased from 1970 through the 1990s as long-term psychiatric hospitalization decreased. Since then, payers have reduced expenditures in these acute care settings and mental health policy makers and advocates have emphasized treatment alternatives with less restrictiveness and less negative stigma. Between 1990 and 2000, admissions to U.S. inpatient psychiatric services declined, but various data have suggested an increase in more recent years.
Joseph C. Blader, Ph.D., from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, State University of New York, Stony Brook, evaluated trends in acute care hospitalizations for primary psychiatric diagnoses between 1996 and 2007, segmented by patient-level variables. He used demographic, clinical and payment data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey on a probability sample of discharges from short-stay facilities. Patients included in the study had a primary psychiatric diagnosis and were classified as children (ages 5 to 13 years), adolescents (ages 14 to 19 years), adults (ages 20 to 64 years) or elderly individuals (ages 65 years and older). Payers were classified as private, government or other (self-pay, no charge and other payment).
The study found increases in discharges for children and adolescents, as well as more moderate increases for adults, while discharge rates for elderly patients declined. However, the total inpatient days increased from 1,845 days per 100,000 in 1996 to 4,370 days in 2007 for children and from 5,882 days per 100,000 in 1996 to 8,247 days in 2007 for adolescents; again, a decrease was seen among elderly individuals, from 10,348 days per 100,000 in 1996 to 6,517 in 2007. Also, during the years studied, the proportion of inpatient days covered by private payers decreased among children, adolescents, and adults. Through the period surveyed, primary diagnoses of bipolar disorder increased and primary diagnoses of anxiety decreased.
"In conclusion, a substantial increase in acute care psychiatric hospitalization rates and inpatient occupancy for children and adolescents, a moderate increase in the hospitalization rate of adults, and a steep decline for elderly individuals represent significant developments in mental health treatment in the United States with potentially strong ramifications for quality of care and service financing," writes Blader. "Investigation of the clinical and organizational determinants of these trends, and their impact on patient outcomes, are vital to understanding their implications."
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