Study of Cincinnati hospital finds new reason health systems should be concerned about economic disparities

A blue hospital sign on the side of a building
A study in Health Affairs found that children would spend 22 fewer child-years in hospital stays if hospitalization rates from the most affluent communities extended throughout the socioeconomic spectrum. (Getty/Manuel-F-O)

Economic disparities were linked to disproportionate hospitalization rates in pediatric patients, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

In the examination of inpatient bed-day rates at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, researchers found patients from certain high-poverty "hot spots" had bed-day rates that were more than double the county average. Researchers concluded that if children across all socioeconomic levels spent the same amount of time in the hospital as the county's most affluent population, the hospital could prevent approximately 22 child-years of hospitalization each year, underscoring the wide disparity of medical care between low-income and high-income households.

Understanding this tangible link between rates of child poverty in a community and inpatient hospital stays might help hospitals to identify and mitigate some preventable stays, the study's authors said. 

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It's an important insight in light of the shift to value-based payment models, which require hospitals to take on more financial risk related to outcomes. 

The study's authors suggest hospitals and healthcare systems will need to prioritize health equity more broadly in cooperation with nonprofit organizations, government entities and other community organizations working together to develop a “culture of health.” 

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For example, in Cincinnati, officials launched a collaborative effort across a network of organizations seeking to improve children’s health, helping to direct resources more efficiently and equitably across communities.

The authors suggest that this broader focus on improving the root causes of disparities “may be more fruitful than attempting to tackle disparities condition by condition or hoping in vain that each sub-specialty can close its own equity gap.”