Variation in child health care utilization by medical complexity

Matern Child Health J. 2015 Jan;19(1):40-8. doi: 10.1007/s10995-014-1493-0.


Children with medical complexity (CMC) have multiple specialty need, technology dependence, and high health care utilization. The objective of this study is to profile types of pediatric health care utilization and costs by increasing levels of medical complexity. This is a cross-sectional study of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Full-Year Data Sets from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Medical complexity was defined by a higher number of positive items from the five question children with special health care needs (CSHCN) Screener. CMC were defined by ≥ 4 positive screener items. Outcomes included the number of inpatient, outpatient, and emergency department visits, associated costs and diagnoses, and reported satisfaction. ICD-9 codes were grouped by Clinical Classifications Software. Of 27,755 total study subjects ≤ 17 years, 4,851 had special needs and 541 were CMC. Older age, male gender, white/non-Hispanic race/ethnicity, and public insurance were all associated with medical complexity (all p < 0.001). CMC had an annual mean of 19 annual outpatient visits ($616) and 0.26 inpatient visits ($3,308), with other significant cost drivers including home health ($2,957) and prescriptions ($2,182). The most common reasons for non-CSHCN and less-complex CSHCN outpatient visits were viral illnesses, while the main reasons for CMC visits were for mental health. Compared to families without CSHCN, those with CMC have, on average, lower satisfaction with health care (8.4 vs. 8.9 out of 10, p < 0.001). Health care models for CMC should account for mental health conditions that may be driving high numbers of outpatient encounters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Health Services / economics*
  • Child Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / economics
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease / therapy
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disabled Children / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Outpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States / epidemiology