3% of 'frequent flier' children rack up nearly 25% of inpatient charges

Apparently size doesn't matter when it comes to hospital readmissions. A small group of frequently readmitted children (2.9 percent) accounted for a disproportionate share of healthcare costs, according to a recent study of children's hospitals.

These "frequent fliers" were readmitted to the same hospital four or more times in one year, and accounted for nearly 20 percent of overall admissions and nearly one-quarter of all inpatient charges, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

While some children with chronic conditions may need multiple hospitalizations, such as chemotherapy for leukemia, many of the patients were frequently readmitted for a problem in the same organ system. Those recurrent readmissions may have been avoided with improved inpatient and outpatient care coordination, care planning and community healthcare support, according to the study's authors.

"If these patients were prospectively identified and received effective readmission prevention services before they accumulated multiple readmissions, there would be potential for substantial inpatient expenditure reduction," they wrote.

Yet, even with the appropriate care planning and coordinated outpatient follow-up, children with complex chronic health conditions may still return to the hospital if the community providers and health system are not able to meet their needs, optimally manage their acute illnesses and minimize their chronic illness problems, the authors note.

For more:
- read the MedPage Today article
- read the Children's Hospital Boston press release
- here's the study's abstract