OBJECTIVE:

To measure the hospital-level variation in admission rates for children receiving treatment of common pediatric illnesses across emergency departments (EDs) in US children’s hospitals.

METHODS:

We performed a multi-center cross sectional study of children presenting to the EDs of 35 pediatric tertiary-care hospitals participating in the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS). Admission rates were calculated for visits occurring between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2012, associated with 1 of 7 common conditions, and corrected to adjust for hospital-level severity of illness. Conditions were selected systematically based on frequency of visits and admission rates.

RESULTS:

A total of 1 288 706 ED encounters (13.8% of all encounters) were associated with 1 of the 7 conditions of interest. After adjusting for hospital-level severity, the greatest variation in admission rates was observed for concussion (range 5%–72%), followed by pneumonia (19%–69%), and bronchiolitis (19%–65%). The least variation was found among patients presenting with seizures (7%–37%) and kidney and urinary tract infections (6%–37%). Although variability existed in disease-specific admission rates, certain hospitals had consistently higher, and others consistently lower, admission rates.

CONCLUSIONS:

We observed greater than threefold variation in severity-adjusted admission rates for common pediatric conditions across US children’s hospitals. Although local practices and hospital-level factors may partly explain this variation, our findings highlight the need for greater focus on the standardization of decisions regarding admission.

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