Malnutrition is common among hospitalized patients in the United States, and its coded prevalence is increasing. Malnutrition is known to be associated with increased morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs. Although national data indicate that the number of malnutrition diagnoses among hospital discharges has been steadily rising, an in-depth examination of the demographic and clinical characteristics of these patients has not been conducted. We examined data from the 2010 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), the most recent nationally-representative data describing U.S. hospital discharges. Using ICD-9 codes, we constructed a composite variable indicating a diagnosis of malnutrition. Based on our definition, 3.2% of all U.S. hospital discharges in 2010 had this diagnosis. Relative to patients without a malnutrition diagnosis, those with the diagnosis were older, had longer lengths of stay and incurred higher costs. These patients were more likely to have 27 of 29 comorbidities assessed in HCUP. Finally, discharge to home care was twice as common among malnourished patients, and a discharge of death was more than 5 times as common among patients with a malnutrition diagnosis. Taken together, these nationally representative, cross-sectional data indicate that hospitalized patients discharged with a diagnosis of malnutrition are older and sicker and their inpatient care is more expensive than their counterparts without this diagnosis.
Keywords: nutrition; nutrition assessment; nutrition support practice; outcomes research/quality; public policy.