Patterns of morbidity and rehospitalisation following spinal cord injury

Spinal Cord. 2004 Jun;42(6):359-67. doi: 10.1038/


Study design: Longitudinal, descriptive design.

Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate the frequency, cause and duration of rehospitalisations in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) living in the community.

Setting: Australian spinal cord injury unit in collaboration with State Health Department.

Methods: A data set was created by linking records from the NSW Department of Health Inpatient Statistics Collection between 1989-1990 and 1999-2000 with data from the Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) Spinal Cord Injuries Database using probabilistic record linkage techniques. Records excluded were nontraumatic injuries, age <16 years, spinal column injury without neurological deficit, full recovery (ASIA Grade E) and index admission not at RNSH. Descriptive statistics and time to readmission using survival analysis, stratified by ASIA impairment grade, were calculated.

Results: Over the 10-year period, 253 persons (58.6%) required one or more spinal-related readmissions, accounting for 977 rehospitalisations and 15,127 bed-days (average length of stay (ALOS) 15.5 days; median 5 days). The most frequent causes for rehospitalisation were genitourinary (24.1% of readmissions), gastrointestinal (11.0%), further rehabilitation (11.0%), skin-related (8.9%), musculoskeletal (8.6%) and psychiatric disorders (6.8%). Pressure sores accounted for only 6.6% of all readmissions, however, contributed a disproportionate number of bed-days (27.9%), with an ALOS of 65.9 (median 49) days and over 50% of readmissions (33 out of 64) occurred in only nine individuals aged under 30 years. Age, level and completeness of neurological impairment, all influenced differential rates of readmission depending on the type of complication. Overall rehospitalisation rates were high in the first 4 years after initial treatment episode, averaging 0.64 readmissions (12.6 bed-days) per person at risk in the first year and fluctuating between 0.52 and 0.61 readmissions (5.1-8.3 bed-days) per person at risk per year between the second to fourth years, before trending downwards to reach 0.35 readmissions (2.0 bed-days) as 10th year approaches. Time to readmission was influenced by degree of impairment, with significantly fewer people readmitted for ASIA D (43.2%) versus ASIA A, B and C (55.2-67.0%) impairments (P<0.0001). The mean duration to first readmission was 46 months overall, however, differed significantly between persons with ASIA A-C impairments (26-36 months) and ASIA D impairment (60 months).

Conclusion: Identifying rates, causes and patterns of morbidity is important for future resource allocation and targeting preventative measures. For instance, the late complication of pressure sores in a small subgroup of young males, consuming disproportionately large resources, warrants further research to better understand the complex psychosocial and environmental factors involved and to develop effective countermeasures.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology*