Hospital Discharges, by Primary Diagnosis

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Learn More About Hospital Use

Measures of Hospital Use on Kidsdata.org
Kidsdata.org provides the following measures of hospital use among children ages 0-17:
Indicators of hospital use on kidsdata.org exclude visits for childbirth.
Hospital Use
Asthma
Characteristics of Children with Special Needs
Access to Services for Children with Special Needs
Child Abuse and Neglect
Children's Emotional Health
Health Insurance Coverage for Children with Special Health Care Needs
Impacts of Special Health Care Needs on Children and Families
Health Care
Youth Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury
Injuries
Why This Topic Is Important
All children should have high-quality, accessible, affordable health care, including hospital care when needed. Children with special health care needs, in particular, may require more frequent hospital visits and specialized, intensive medical services. Ensuring that all children have consistent access to affordable, evidence-based, well coordinated, comprehensive, and family-centered care—all within the context of a medical home—can maximize positive outcomes (1). This type of care also may reduce costly hospitalizations and emergency department visits (1).

While emergency departments (EDs) are critical sources of acute care for children, frequent or non-urgent ED visits may be an indication of unmet health needs or difficulty accessing appropriate pediatric care (2). Children from vulnerable groups, especially young children ages 0-5 and those from low-income households, tend to have disproportionately high rates of ED use (3).

Data on hospital use can illuminate trends in health and health care needs, and can inform disease surveillance and public health prevention efforts. For example, data show that ED visits for psychiatric issues have been rising among young people nationwide, with teens and youth of color experiencing the largest increases (4). Additionally, mental illness has become the most common cause of hospitalization among children in California and the U.S. (5, 6). Children admitted to the hospital for mental health reasons also are more likely to have unplanned readmissions than children with other diagnoses (5). These data point to urgent mental health care needs among youth nationwide.
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Opportunities for improving programs and services for children with disabilities. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25028/opportunities-for-improving-programs-and-services-for-children-with-disabilities

2.  Taylor, T., & Salyakina, D. (2019). Health care access barriers bring children to emergency rooms more frequently: A representative survey. Population Health Management, 22(3), 262-271. Retrieved from: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/pop.2018.0089

3.  McDermott, K. W., et al. (2018). Overview of pediatric emergency department visits, 2015. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Retrieved from: https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb242-Pediatric-ED-Visits-2015.jsp

4.  Kalb, L. G., et al. (2019). Trends in psychiatric emergency department visits among youth and young adults in the U.S. Pediatrics, 143(4), e20182192. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/143/4/e20182192/76774/Trends-in-Psychiatric-Emergency-Department-Visits

5.  Feng, J. Y., et al. (2017). Readmission after pediatric mental health admissions. Pediatrics, 140(6), e20171571. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/140/6/e20171571/38254/Readmission-After-Pediatric-Mental-Health

6.  As cited on kidsdata.org, Hospital discharges, by primary diagnosis. (2022). California Department of Health Care Access and Information.
How Children Are Faring
In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, California children ages 0-17 made almost 1.2 million fewer visits to emergency departments (EDs) than in 2019—a drop of 43%. Traumatic injuries are the most common primary diagnosis among children visiting the ED, representing more than 12% of visits statewide in 2020, followed by viral illnesses or fevers of unknown origin (8%) and fractures (4%). As in previous years, Medi-Cal was the payment source for almost two thirds (63%) of childhood ED visits in 2020, compared with private insurance at 29%. At the local level, payment sources for ED visits vary widely; e.g., the share of visits covered by Medi-Cal in 2020 ranged from 33% to 80% across counties and county groups.

In 2020, there were 171,769 hospital discharges among California children, a 22% decrease from 2019. More than one in six (17%) of those hospital stays were for a primary diagnosis of mental disease or disorder, followed by asthma/bronchitis (5%) and seizures/headaches (4%). Although mental illness has been the most common cause of childhood hospitalization statewide since 2008, wide variation exists across regions. For instance, in 2020, the share of discharges for mental diseases and disorders was higher than 25% for Placer and Sonoma counties and lower than 10% for Butte, Imperial, and Santa Barbara counties. Among California children discharged in 2020, Medi-Cal covered the hospitalization expenses for more than half (51%) of those stays, compared with private insurance at 37%. Since 2002, the percentage of hospitalizations covered by private insurers has generally decreased, while the percentage covered by Medi-Cal has increased.
Policy Implications
Hospital care for children is changing. While hospital admissions have been declining, readmissions appear to be rising due to increasing numbers of children with chronic health conditions (1). Admissions, readmissions, and emergency department (ED) visits may be reduced through effective care coordination and discharge planning, especially for children with special health care needs (2, 3). Hospital utilization data can reveal the conditions and populations for which targeted care management and preventive services could have the greatest impact.

Emergency care for children also has unique challenges. Most children who need emergency care visit community hospital EDs (rather than those at children's hospitals), which may not be well equipped to care for children with special health care needs, or for pediatric care in general (2, 4). Many EDs face overcrowding, too, as they often function as a safety net for those with unmet health needs or limited access to care (5, 6). Low-income children are more likely to use EDs than higher-income children, and research shows that improving access to appropriate pediatric care may reduce unnecessary ED visits (5, 7).

Policy and practice options that could reduce preventable hospital use and improve pediatric care before, during, and after hospitalizations and ED visits include:
  • Reducing care fragmentation and inefficiency within and across health systems by establishing care coordination services within a patient- and family-centered medical home, including a team-based, strengths-based, comprehensive approach to meeting children's needs while enhancing the caregiving capabilities of families (2, 8)
  • Ensuring that all children have high-quality, accessible, and affordable health care to promote prevention and effective management of chronic conditions (2, 8)
  • Reducing obstacles that can prevent families from obtaining timely and appropriate care, such as linguistic or cultural barriers, difficulties finding a doctor or making an appointment, and transportation issues; also, improving family health literacy regarding primary care availability and appropriate use of EDs (5)
  • Promoting efforts to improve pediatric readiness in all EDs, in accordance with American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, including identification of a physician and nurse pediatric coordinator, and an ongoing commitment that all aspects of EDs, from policies and staff competencies to equipment and medications, are set up to meet the specific needs of children (4)
  • Implementing a standardized, pediatric-specific framework for the transition from hospital to home care that begins at the time of admission, involves the entire care team, engages the child's family, considers family circumstances and social determinants of health, provides clear documentation, and follows up with the family after discharge (3, 9)
  • Continuing to promote community-wide, integrated interventions to decrease the burden of asthma on high-risk populations, such as low-income families and children of color, including strategies to improve insurance coverage among the uninsured and under-insured, provide home visiting and education, and reduce environmental asthma triggers (10)
  • Adopting a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to mental health services for youth that expands and improves prevention, screening, and access to services, while also promoting positive mental health and providing access to wellness supports for all children and families (11)
  • Continuing to support research on strategies to reduce preventable hospital use, particularly for children with special health care needs (1)
For more policy ideas and research on this topic, visit kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section. Also see Policy Implications under Health Care, Children's Emotional Health, Asthma, and topics related to Children with Special Health Care Needs.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Bucholz, E. M., et al. (2019). Trends in pediatric hospitalizations and readmissions: 2010-2016. Pediatrics, 143(2), e20181958. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/143/2/e20181958/37344/Trends-in-Pediatric-Hospitalizations-and

2.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). Opportunities for improving programs and services for children with disabilities. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25028/opportunities-for-improving-programs-and-services-for-children-with-disabilities

3.  Lax, Y., et al. (2017). Social determinants of health and hospital readmission. Pediatrics, 140(5), e20171427. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/140/5/e20171427/37757/Social-Determinants-of-Health-and-Hospital

4.  Remick, K., et al. (2018). Pediatric readiness in the emergency department. Pediatrics, 142(5), e20182459. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/5/e20182459/38608/Pediatric-Readiness-in-the-Emergency-Department

5.  Taylor, T., & Salyakina, D. (2019). Health care access barriers bring children to emergency rooms more frequently: A representative survey. Population Health Management, 22(3), 262-271. Retrieved from: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/pop.2018.0089

6.  Kalb, L. G., et al. (2019). Trends in psychiatric emergency department visits among youth and young adults in the U.S. Pediatrics, 143(4), e20182192. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/143/4/e20182192/76774/Trends-in-Psychiatric-Emergency-Department-Visits

7.  McDermott, K. W., et al. (2018). Overview of pediatric emergency department visits, 2015. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Retrieved from: https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb242-Pediatric-ED-Visits-2015.jsp

8.  American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Children with Disabilities & Medical Home Implementation Project Advisory Committee. (2018). Patient- and family-centered care coordination: A framework for integrating care for children and youth across multiple systems. Pediatrics, 133(5), e1451-e1460. Retrieved from: https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/133/5/e1451/32796/

9.  Berry, J. G., et al. (2014). A framework of pediatric hospital discharge care informed by legislation, research, and practice. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(10), 955-966. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5603147

10.  California Department of Public Health. (2015). Strategic plan for asthma in California: 2015-2019. Retrieved from: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DEODC/EHIB/CPE/CDPH Document Library/SPAC2014_7-28-15APR.pdf

11.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Fostering healthy mental, emotional, and behavioral development in children and youth: A national agenda. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/25201/fostering-healthy-mental-emotional-and-behavioral-development-in-children-and-youth
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Hospital Use