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December 1999

How Commonly Are Children Hospitalized for Dehydration Eligible for Care in Alternative Settings?

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Pediatrics (Drs McConnochie and Conners and Mr Wilson) and Emergency Medicine (Dr Conners), University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York (Ms Lu) NY.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1999;153(12):1233-1241. doi:10.1001/archpedi.153.12.1233

Background  Avoiding unnecessary hospitalization has long been a goal of child health care providers. Managed care practice environments increasingly pressure the practicing pediatrician to avoid hospitalization.

Objectives  To estimate the proportion of childhood dehydration hospitalizations eligible for care in alternative settings (eg, short-stay treatment and triage units, home nursing) and to assess the type and duration of services that might be required for alternative setting care of children with these illness episodes.

Design  All dehydration hospitalizations for the 198,593 children (aged >1 month and <19 years) dwelling in Rochester, NY (Monroe County), between 1991 and 1995 were identified in county-wide hospital discharge computer files. Medical records were reviewed for a random sample of 380 of the hospitalizations. Children with major underlying conditions were excluded from analysis because of higher risk for deterioration, and greater complexity of medical care might render alternative settings inappropriate. Measures included a 4-item score estimating level of dehydration, serum bicarbonate level at presentation, and time to rehydration. Rehydration was defined as a drop in urine-specific gravity to 1.010 or less or reduction of fluid administration to the maintenance rate.

Results  Altogether, 1121 dehydration hospitalizations occurred during the study period. Based on medical record review for a random sample of 380 of these 1121, major underlying problems were present in 27.4% (104) of hospitalizations sampled. Simple, acute gastroenteritis accounted for 75.4% (208) of 276 hospitalizations remaining in the sample. Levels of dehydration for these children were estimated as at least 5% for 51.0% (106) and at least 10% for 16.3% (34) of hospital admissions, and serum bicarbonate levels were 12 mmol/L or less for 26.0% (54). Time from hospital admission to rehydration was no greater than 12 hours for 79.3% (165) and no greater than 24 hours for 94.7% (197). However, hospital stay was generally substantially longer. The time hospitalized following rehydration represented 85.8% of the average inpatient stay. Hospital discharge was heavily concentrated in daytime hours, although the children achieved rehydration at all hours of the day. No deterioration occurred during hospitalizations studied.

Conclusion  Nearly all children hospitalized for simple, acute gastroenteritis in Rochester might be eligible for care in alternative settings designed to provide hospital-level care for short periods.