Background: Population ageing may threaten the sustainability of future health care systems. Strengthening primary health care, including long-term care, is one of several measures being taken to handle future health care needs and budgets. There is limited and inconsistent evidence on the effect of long-term care on hospital use. We explored the relationship between the total use of long-term care within public primary health care in Norway and the use of hospital beds when adjusting for various effect modifiers and confounders.
Methods: This national population-based observational study consists of all Norwegians (59% women) older than 66 years (N = 605676) (13.2% of total population) in 2002-2006. The unit of analysis was defined by municipality, age and sex. The association between total number of recipients of long-term care per 1000 inhabitants (LTC-rate) and hospital days per 1000 inhabitants (HD-rate) was analysed in a linear regression model. Modifying and confounding effects of socioeconomic, demographic and geographic variables were included in the final model. We defined a difference in hospitalization rates of more than 1000 days per 1000 inhabitants as clinically important.
Results: Thirty-one percent of women and eighteen percent of men were long-term care users. Men had higher HD-rates than women. The crude association between LTC-rate and HD-rate was weakly negative. We identified two effect modifiers (age and sex) and two strong confounders (travel time to hospital and mortality). Age and sex stratification and adjustments for confounders revealed a positive statistically significant but not clinically important relationship between LTC-rates and hospitalization for women aged 67-79 years and all men. For women 80 years and over there was a weak but negative relationship which was neither statistically significant nor clinically important.
Conclusions: We found a weak positive adjusted association between LTC-rates and HD-rates. Opposite to common belief, we found that increased volume of LTC by itself did not reduce pressure on hospitals. There still is a need to study integrated care models for the elderly in the Norwegian setting and to explore further why municipalities far away from hospital achieve lower use of hospital beds.